By Bradley Varnell
Brookhaven College’s theater program closed its three-day run of “8” Saturday, March 9. The play deals with the hot-button issue of marriage equality and the legal battle over California’s Proposition 8, the state’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
According to www.8theplay. com, “8” is based on the true story of Kris Perry and Sandy Steir and Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo, two loving couples who want to get married but can- not. With attorneys David Boies, Theodore B. Olson and a host of expert witnesses, they take aim at Proposition 8, a law that took away the right for LGBT couples to marry in California in 2008. The original play, written by Dustin Lance Black, premiered on Broadway in 2011. One year later, it made its way to California.
Michael Robinson, adjunct theater professor and director of “8,” said the whole reason behind the show is educating the public about Proposition 8 and marriage equality. “It’s being done all over the country since the trial wasn’t aired and people didn’t get a chance to see this trial,” Robinson said. “[The script] is taken from the transcripts, so you’re kind of getting to see [it].”
Brookhaven’s run of “8” came at a time of renewed interest in the case (originally titled Perry v. Schwarzenegger, now titled Hollingsworth v. Perry). Last month, the Supreme Court opened the case and is expected to rule on it by June. “It’s perfect timing,” Robinson said. “We have the best position in the country, I think, for the production.”
Robinson said he wants the production to open people’s eyes to the legal issues faced by same- sex couples who lack the protections marriage affords. “It’s time for equality,” Robinson said. “I told my cast I had somebody that worked for me. He and his partner had been together for over 40 years, and when his partner died, suddenly the partner’s family … swooped in and took everything.” Robinson said the family seized the man’s home and he lost everything, despite being in a committed long-term relationship. “He had no rights whatsoever in Texas, because even though they had been together and had joint checking accounts and had bought all this stuff together, when his partner died, since it was in his partner’s name, he lost everything. And that happens frequently, unfortunately.”
Performed as a staged reading, in which actors wear simple costumes, carry their scripts onstage, and use one basic set, the 90-minute show was interspersed with actual Proposition 8 campaign videos.
The mood alternated between moments of heaviness — such as during the testimony of one man who said his mother would rather have had an abortion than a gay son — and levity — the scene between lawyer David Boies and defense witness David Blankenhorn got several laughs at the student matinee.
Bill Sigsbee, professor of psychology, attended the student matinee of “8” and encouraged his students to attend. “I think we’re probably at a turning point historically, and I think it’s high time that gays and lesbians have the right to marry and live their lives the way they want to live them,” Sigsbee said.
Sigsbee said he was particularly impressed with the even- handed way in which both sides of the same-sex marriage debate were portrayed. He said he hoped his students “saw an intelligent discussion of same- sex marriage and the rights that gays and lesbians should have.”
The student matinee had approximately 80 audience members in attendance, including Ceyshuh Harvey, a Brookhaven student. Harvey said she enjoyed the play and its timeliness. “The topic was great,” Harvey said. “I feel like both sides were dead on with the facts and the emotions. You could see it on their faces. It was just a great play. Very well put together, very strong. I loved it.”
Stephen Wantland, a Brookhaven drama student who played the role of plaintiff Jeff Zarrillo, said he hoped the Supreme Court would change its position regarding Proposition 8 and consider people as human beings.
Daniel Torrez, a Brookhaven student who played David Boies, one of the lawyers seeking to overturn Proposition 8, echoed Wantland’s sentiment. Torrez said if audience members came with a closed mind, even if they do not change their views, at least they might be more open- minded afterward.