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Play about Prop. 8 Trial to Open on Broadway

Protesters denounce same-sex marriage outside the courthouse Dec. 6, 2010
Protesters denounce same-sex marriage outside the courthouse Dec. 6, 2010
'8' features John Lithgow and Morgan Freeman; it will run for one night only.

Last year's landmark federal trial in San Francisco on Proposition 8 -- which has already been made public in a full reenactment on the Internet -- will have a new incarnation on Broadway next week.

Supporters of same-sex marriage are staging a 90-minute play entitled "8" at a New York City theater on Monday.

Volunteer actors in the show include John Lithgow, Morgan Freeman, Ellen Barkin, Rob Reiner, Christine Lahti, Bradley Whitford and Larry Kramer, among others.

"People need to see what happened in the Proposition 8 trial," said Dustin Black, a screenwriter who attended the 2010 trial and put together the play from a combination of trial transcripts and interviews.

"The goal of '8' is to show the world that marriage equality is a basic constitutional right," said Black, who won an Academy Award for the screenplay of the film "Milk" and also wrote the "Big Love" television series.

The staged reading at the Eugene O'Neill Theater will have only one performance, but the organizers hope that the play will be picked up and produced by school and community groups in the future.

The play is co-produced by the Los Angeles-based American Foundation for Equal Rights, which sponsored the lawsuit that led to the trial, and Broadway Impact, a nonprofit group that advocates marriage equality.

The lawsuit was filed in 2009 on behalf of two same-sex couples who claimed that Proposition 8, California's voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage, violated their federal constitutional rights.

After a nonjury trial, U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker ruled in August 2010 that the measure was unconstitutional. The sponsors of Proposition 8 and their committee, Protect Marriage, are seeking to appeal that decision and Walker's ruling has been put on hold during the appeal.

Protect Marriage spokeswoman Carla Hass said the group has no comment on the play.

AFER senior projects manager Adam Umfhoefer said the play's sponsors believe the context of the trial is a good vehicle for a play about marriage equality because the courtroom "is a fair place to make your arguments."

"It's a location where each side gets an equal opportunity to make their case," he said.

"We took great pains to make sure the other side's arguments are represented" in the play, Umhoefer added.

Umhoefer said the framing device for the play will be excerpts of the trial's closing arguments, given by the lead attorneys for each side. Lithgow will play Theodore Olson, the plaintiffs' lawyer, and Whitford will play Proposition 8 attorney Charles Cooper.

The selections of the final arguments will alternate with flashbacks of excerpts from the 12 days of trial testimony. All excerpts are taken verbatim from the trial transcript, Umhoefer said.


Also woven into the play will be parts of media interviews with representatives of both sides, again taken verbatim from transcripts, plus additional material from interviews Black conducted with the plaintiffs and their families.

Black "was able to boil it down to a compelling message and present it in a dramatic way," said Umhoefer. He said the 1,000-seat theater is "just about sold out" for the fundraising performance.

The play is by no means the first time that events of the trial have been brought to life outside the courtroom.

Because of wide interest in the case, a number of bloggers live-blogged and tweeted reports from the courtroom last year.

The printed transcript of the trial has long been available and a group of volunteer actors has used the transcript to reenact the entire trial and post it on the Internet at http://marriagetrial.com/.

There is also a videotape of the actual trial, but it has not been made public.

At the start of the trial in January 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court by a 5-4 vote blocked a plan by Walker to stream the video to five other courthouses and possibly air it in a delayed broadcast on a YouTube government channel.

The court majority said the San Francisco court had not allowed enough time for public comment on the plan and that the Proposition 8 sponsors had showed a threat of harm from broadcasting their witnesses.

The same-sex couples, joined by the city of San Francisco and 13 media organizations, have now asked U.S. District Judge James Ware to release the video to the public. Ware took over the case after Walker retired in February.

The Proposition 8 supporters contend that the Supreme Court's order still applies to the issue and want the video to remain sealed.

Ware heard arguments on whether to release the video on Aug. 29 but has not yet ruled.

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