On Thursday, September 29 and October 1st Helen Hayes Award-winning actor and Factory 449 Artistic Director Rick Hammerly – who is currently pursuing an Arts Management degree at American University – and Assistant Director Hunter Style -Associate Artistic Director at Artists’ Bloc – will helm American University’s production of Dead Man Walking. The production, based on Sister Helen Prejean’s book, has been adapted for the stage by Tim Robbins – who directed the critically acclaimed film, and adapted the screenplay from Sister Prejean’s book.
Dead Man Walking is presented in conjunction with the Dead Man Walking School Theatre Project. The cast features thirteen American University students playing forty roles: Afua Busia, Chris Carillo, Zach Cohen, Noah Cooper-Hauser, Sam Edgerly, Emily Goodell, Erika Grob, Sarah King, David Landstrom, Michael Litchfield, Shannon McArdle, Michael Poandl, and Alexandra Vaughan.
Tim Robbins wrote the stage play of Dead Man Walking for young Americans to, “further widen the circle of public discourse on the death penalty,” and together with Sister Helen Prejean created the Dead Man Walking School Theatre Project, offering the play to colleges and universities across the nation.
The design team includes Jesse Achtenberg (Projection/Video Design), David Lamont Wilson (Sound Design), Debra Buonaccorsi and Tom Carman (Composers), Joey R. Walls (Lighting Design), and Austin Byrd (Set Design).
Dead Man Walking, according to AU’s press release is an “uncompromising inquiry into violent crime and the issues surrounding capital punishment. Exploring the complex relationship between Matthew Poncelet, a convicted rapist/murderer on death row, and his spiritual advisor, Sister Helen Prejean, Dead Man Walking effectively examines such universal themes as revenge and redemption, fear and salvation, and, ultimately, forgiveness and love.”
When asked about why he AU selected Dead Man Walking, Hammerly responded, “American University’s decision to produce the stage version of Dead Man Walking creates an opportunity for the next generation to discover ways of thinking about the role of art in exploring the issues that affect us. The play is extremely accessible, challenging both the student cast and audiences, while creating a powerful vehicle for teaching, learning, commitment and a willingness to examine one of the most complex moral issues of our day. Working with these students, our next generation of theatre artists, on such a powerful piece and providing them the opportunity to work with a variety of area theatre professionals has been extremely rewarding.
“Of equal importance, we have been in contact with Troy Anthony Davis, a current inmate on Georgia’s Death Row, who has been receiving a great deal of national press for his scheduled execution tomorrow – Wednesday, September 21. In using his recorded words and thoughts to begin and end our production of Dead Man Walking, we are able pay tribute to the life of Troy and emphasize the relevance and need for discussion of this polarizing issue.”
Tony Anthony Davis was denied clemency on September 19, 2011, by The Georgia Board of Pardons and Parole.
Davis was convicted of the 1989 killing of Savannah, Georgia, police officer Mark MacPhail. Several of the witnesses have recanted their testimony. Pope Benedict XVI, former President Jimmy Carter, and actress Susan Sarandon, who won an Academy Award playing Sister Helen Prejean, have asked for him to be released.
There will be a panel discussion (Dead Man Walking & The Death Penalty) following the Saturday 2 PM performance. The panel includes Kirk Bloodsworth (first U.S. Death Row inmate exonerated by DNA), Jim Rocap (attorney for the first woman executed in Virginia), Terry Steinberg (mother of the youngest person on Virginia’s Death Row), and Diann Rust-Tierney (Executive Director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty). Additionally, there will be a post-show discussion with the cast and director following the Friday 8 PM performance to discuss the play, the production process and the issues brought to light by the performance.
Dead Man Walking runs September 29th through October 1st, at American University’s Katzen Studio Theatre – 1021 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, in Washington, DC. Performances are Thursday, September 29th – Saturday, October 1st at 8 PM, with a matinee performance Saturday, October 1st at 2 PM. All tickets are $15 ($10 AU community and seniors) and can be purchased by phone at (202) 885-ARTS or online.
Sister Helen Prejean, a nun working in the St. Thomas Projects of New Orleans, receives a desperate letter from Matthew Poncelet, a death row inmate who is seeking help in avoiding execution for the rape and murder of two teenagers. As Poncelet’s execution nears, Sister Helen finds herself conflicted with feelings of empathy for the victims, their families, Poncelet’s family and even the murderer himself. In the hours approaching Poncelet’s execution, Sister Helen must decide how she will deal with the paradox of caring for this condemned man while comprehending the heinousness of his crimes.