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Primal Essence in Next Act's 'The Exonerated'

Oct. 12, 2011
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Stripped down to its most primal essence, theater is about people and stories onstage. Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen's The Exonerated is a striking realization of that primal essence. Featuring a minimal set and minimal costuming, six people tell stories about being wrongfully convicted of crimes and sentenced to death. Yes, these are characters onstage, but their words are taken directly from Blank and Jensen's interviews with real-life people wrongfully sent to death row and later found innocent. Next Act Theatre opened its season last week with a compelling staging of this drama in its new space at 255 S. Water St.

Essentially a series of monologues delivered straight from the mouths of actual people, Blank and Jensen's real genius is just giving the stories space to unfold. They alternate and overlap the six stories with parallel elements to keep them from seeming repetitive.

Next Act's production features strong performances from everyone in the cast. James Pickering weaves in and out of different roles with impressive flexibility. Jonathan Wainwright is tragically sympathetic as a man wrongly convicted of murdering a lover. In another haunting account, Bo Johnson delicately portrays the thoughts and emotions of a man accused of killing his own parents. Tami Workentin plays an emotionally uplifting central spirit in the play.

The Exonerated
is a striking collage of stories. Director Edward Morgan turns what could have felt like a random assemblage of elements into a well-orchestrated show.  Next Act's production of The Exonerated runs through Oct. 30. For ticket reservations, call 414-278-0765.

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