8 play by Dustin Lance Black in AZAs I sidled my way last night past the crowds into the Herberger Theater in downtown Phoenix, I must admit I was skeptical. An entire play constructed mainly of a trial transcript? Really?

Anyone who has been to a trial or two knows you would need a genius writer to make that come together into dramatic arts. And so the play “8” had one: Dustin Lance Black had whittled a trial into an evening that was provocative, funny and compelling.

I mentioned the play last Friday, and I was pleased that my family and I were able to attend. “8” tells the story of the trial over the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage.

Black drew on his mondo skills to shape a play comprised almost entirely of the trial transcript. There are a few moments that are tough sledding, especially, I imagine, for the many nonlawyers in the house. Arguing over the standard of review is often a game-changer in a case, but it’s an oddly shaped building block in crafting compelling theater.

Performers in the play 8, Herberger Center Theatre, Phoenix, May 7, 2013

Performers in the play 8, Herberger Center Theatre, Phoenix, May 7, 2013

There are only a few of those moments, though. The craft and the words selected were amazing. And what consistently impressed was the quality of the performances. Non-actors almost all, the cast delivered a rousing and entirely convincing play.

I know that one actor–director was cast, to fabulous results. Ron May is the founder and artistic director of Stray Cat Theatre, and his rendition of a witness was wow-inspiring. Cast as David Blankenhorn, May encapsulated eloquently the ideologue who had never been challenged to defend his beliefs before he sat in a witness chair. As he is cross-examined by David Boies of Bush v. Gore fame (played superbly by lawyer and Phoenix Councilman Tom Simplot), bluster turns to anger turns to frustration turns to near-total capitulation. As the steam escapes from Blankenhorn’s pompous world view, the state’s case deflates before the audience’s eyes. If there’s one thing we know, it’s more Ron May, please.

View from Balcony, Row EE (hint: buy tickets earlier).

View from Balcony, Row EE (hint: buy tickets earlier).

The strong performing continued with the attorneys. Amazing work was delivered by Grant Woods (as Ted Olson), Nicole France Stanton (as plaintiff Sandy Stier), Terry Goddard (as trial Judge Vaughn Walker), and Bill Sheppard.

A marvelous moment occurred after the play and during a brief audience-question session. One man (whom I couldn’t see from the nosebleed section) rose to praise Grant Woods. The speaker said that when he was a young Assistant Attorney General 23 years ago, he had serious concerns about being a gay man in the large public agency. But he said that Woods had told him that all he would ever be judged on in that office was merit, the quality of his work. That compelling memory led to a standing ovation for the former Attorney General, which grew to include his own fellow performers.

(Years ago, I had the chance to appear on the Herberger stage in a father–daughter performance with our wonderfully ever-patient Willa. I thought I had turned in a pretty good show. But then I saw Grant Woods get a well-deserved standing ovation, so I think I’m done.)

Grant Woods gets a standing ovation, Herberger Theatre Center, May 7, 2013.

Grant Woods gets a standing ovation, Herberger Theatre Center, May 7, 2013.

My family and I greatly enjoyed the show. And I must add what especially struck me (caution: lawyer moment approaching):

It was remarkable to see, via the true-to-life transcripts, the power that an actual trial may have. In an age when trials are rarer and rarer and they are derided as the ultimate failure of negotiated resolution, it’s worth remembering that truth often peeks out of that ancient construct. Outside the courtroom, lying, puffery, bullying and rants may win the day. But seated in that witness chair, required to endure a series of simple questions, those resting on a crumbling foundation often founder. Except for the sociopathic, misstatements and worse cause discomfort and anxiety when one is required to raise a hand and utter an oath.

Not such a bad message to learn, for lawyers and nonlawyers alike.

Congratulations to all who participated.

8 the Play bare stage

Four things I’m thankful for (among many) this holiday season:

  • Having seen the Matthew Weiner version of A Christmas Carol during its long run before it ended this month at the Actors Theater in Phoenix. It was reviving rather than treacly—and I can think of no higher accolade to give to what is usually a Christmas confection.

That was one of the points of Robrt Pela in his winsome farewell to the show, in his review of “A Christmas Carol” for KJZZ.

  • Getting to watch our daughter Willa—and a bunch of other great actors—through a successful run of a different play, also of the holiday variety, but through a seriously askew lens. The play is called American Pastorela: Show Us Your Papers.

Show Us Your Papers is the brainchild of playwright James E. Garcia. You can read a little about it here.

The show was produced by New Carpa Theater Company. Find more about them on the web. And remember to like them on Facebook.

New Carpa Theater (formerly Colores Actors-Writers Workshop) was founded in 2002 by Garcia. He wrote the play, a retelling of a traditional Mexican Nativity story, updating it every year with modern political and comedic elements. This year’s production had the devil (El Diablo) hell-bent on preventing the Hernandez family from making a trek from Mexico to Bethlehem to see God’s only begotten son. On the way, they met Russell Pearce, Janet Napolitano, Dennis Burke, Billy Mays, and many more.

Willa played a Devil’s Minion—excited beyond words to have the chance to work with Russell Pearce—who had been accidentally electrocuted in a bathtub in the opening scene.

The holiday laughs keep on coming. Trust me—it was funny, filled with laugh-out-loud moments. But it also aimed to make us a cringe a bit as we took a look at our state.

  • Great Arizona weather—however brief before the summer heat starts again in about a month. Enjoy this photo of an early-morning Camelback with its little cap of fog—our own Kilimanjaro-lite.

Happy holidays. Next week, I will be out of the office. But I’m still planning to be opinionated—though perhaps a little less verbose—so I’m sure I’ll share news from Arizona’s legal landscape.