Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen
November 24, 2003
December 21, 2003
(Robin's final night November 30, 2003)
Curran Theatre, San Francisco
Kerry Max Cook
Robert Earl Hayes
Culled from interviews, letters, transcripts, case files, and the public record, The Exonerated tells the true stories of six people sent to Death Row for crimes they did not commit. Their time in prison ranged from 2 years to 22 years.
"The Exonerated" is about as plain-wrap as theater comes. Actors sit on stools arrayed at the lip of the stage, with scripts on music stands in front of them. There are no sets and costumes to speak of, and only lighting is used to punctuate the transitions between speakers. The evening's ultimate message is blunt, too: The death penalty, as it is administered by a flawed American justice system, is a moral monstrosity.
It is by no means a dry jeremiad. Drawn from a series of interviews with men and women who spent time on death row before being cleared of the crimes for which they were sentenced, it is necessarily disturbing and even grueling. So why subject yourself to it, if you're already opposed to the death penalty? Well, why read novels about the Holocaust? Why watch movies wherein bad things happen to good people? Bearing witness to human suffering is one of art's imperatives, and "The Exonerated" is an artful and moving evening of documentary theater.
The critically acclaimed hit docudrama The Exonerated is currently playing at the Curran Theatre with a rotating cast of stars. The first week featured Robin Williams and Amanda Plummer as guest stars and both are brilliant in the roles of gentle soul Kerry Max Cook and the naïve Sunny Jacobs, both unfairly convicted of murder. Cook and Jacobs were exonerated after lengthy court battles by attorneys who believed that the American justice system was flawed and a moral monstrosity.
Robin Williams and Amanda Plummer appear with other very talented actors who are sitting on stools at the lip of the stage with scripts on music stands in front of them. The 90 minute drama pulls no punches with its crucial message about the defective justice system in this country. The actors tell the story of the exonerated Delbert Tibbs, Sunny Jacobs, Robert Earl Hayes, Gary Gauger and Kerry Max Cook, all convicted of murder in the first degree and sentenced to death--and all were innocent. It took years for these unfortunate persons, who were in the wrong place at the wrong time, to prove their innocence.
Robin Williams turns in a brilliant performance as Kerry Max Cook, a tender soul who was brutalized for 22 years before being released due to DNA evidence of his innocence. (This role will also be played by Peter Coyote and Aidan Quinn.) There was scant evidence that he had killed the victim, a woman he hardly knew. However, the innocent man had no money to pay for a good lawyer or investigator to help him find the real murderer. He says, "In Texas, you get the justice you pay for." This is a subdued Robin Williams pouring out his heartfelt message to the audience.
--excerpted from Talkin' Broadway: San Francisco, November 2003, Richard Connema at the Curran Theatre
The Exonerated was a stage play. Although a version of the play exists on DVD, the version with Robin Williams in the cast is not currently available in any format.