Gay marriage play lifts curtain on court battle

A rehearsal of "8," the Dustin Lance Black play being staged this weekend in Palm Desert by Dezart Performs and Script2Stage2Screen. Photo by Clark Dugger.

When you consider the great courtroom dramas that have played on screens and stages during the past 60 years, there’s a long list of memorable stories that continue to entertain and enthrall us.

There’s “Primal Fear” starring Richard Gere, “Philadelphia” with Tom Hanks, “Witness for the Prosecution” starring Marlene Dietrich, and Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood” among them. None of these tales has a shortage of provocative plot twists and moral questions.

“8,” the play written by Dustin Lance Black of “Milk” fame, has all of that and something more. It’s a real-life drama presenting little-known stories and details from Perry vs. Schwarzenegger, the recent trial that challenged California’s same-sex marriage ban, Proposition 8.

This landmark case affects nearly every LGBT person in the state and could lead to repercussions nationwide if the U.S. Supreme Court decides on Nov. 20 to consider same-sex marriage appeals.

The play is especially poignant for residents in the Palm Springs area, where hundreds of same-sex couples tied the knot in 2008, even more fought to retain that right for others, and many continue to live as legally recognized families.

Black lifts the curtain on what happened in the courtroom after TV cameras were forbidden, by reconstructing the story based on court transcripts.

“Dustin Lance Black did a great job giving us the essential facts and humanizing it,” says Burt Peachy, co-director of the “8” production being staged Friday and Saturday (Nov. 9-10) at UCR Palm Desert. “There were a lot of laughs.”

Laughs in a courtroom drama?

Co-director Michael Shaw of Dezart Performs says one of the funnier scenes is a verbal sparring match between Evan Wolfson of Freedom to Marry and Maggie Gallagher of the National Organization for Marriage. Another unexpected scene is between twin teenage brothers who struggle to make sense of why there’s a trial disrupting what they consider to be a normal life.

Shaw and Peachy, who is artistic director for Script2Stage2Screen, cite personal reasons for merging their talents, actors and resources to bring the play to the Coachella Valley. Both married their long-time partners during the window of opportunity in 2008.

“There were a lot of reasons why I needed to do [“8”],” Peachy says. “I did it because it was my way through theater to not only take a stand but help educate people. I feel we’re on the right side of this in that the play is entertaining and it’s also educating.”

The audience will have an opportunity to hear and see similar stories this weekend. “Faces of 8,” a documentary on eight diverse, local same-sex couples who are married, will be screened before the play both nights. One of the couples has been together for 52 years.

The stage production consists of 21 gay and straight actors “who believe in a common cause,” evidenced by an eruption of applause after the first reading, Shaw says.

Peachy encourages LGBT residents, some of whom may think they already know the story, to come out and support it for another reason: all of the play’s proceeds go to the American Foundation for Equal Rights. “The money’s going to help the defense before the Supreme Court,” he says.

“8” also is a reflection of many audience members’ lives.

“If you’re gay, you can’t help but think ‘That’s me, that’s my best friend or that’s my mom,’” Shaw says. “It strikes at the heart immediately. This courtroom drama right now is our life.”

IF YOU GO
What: “8,” a play by Dustin Lance Black chronicling the federal trial for marriage equality
When: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 9 and Nov. 10
Where: UCR Palm Desert Center, 75-080 Frank Sinatra Drive at Cook Street
Tickets: $25
Information: dezartperforms.com, script2stage2screen.com, (760) 702-0062

 

LOVE AND MARRIAGE ON STAGE
A series of new short plays, “Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays,” will be staged at 2 and 8 p.m. Nov. 10 at the Annenberg Theater, 101 Museum Drive, Palm Springs. The playwrights are among the finest working today and include Obie and Pulitizer Prize winners. Tickets are $25 and $35. Information: (760) 325-4490, annenbergtheater.org