For artists and actors known primarily for work with competing Olympia theater companies to band together, a show would have to be something special, and 8 by Dustin Lance Black is one of a kind. The single digit of its title refers to California's Proposition 8, which sought to revoke the 2008 ruling by the California Supreme Court that gays and lesbians could marry there legally. Initially dubbed the California Marriage Protection Act, Prop. 8 would have rewritten the California state constitution to define marriage as valid only between opposite-sex couples. The proposition passed but was immediately challenged in court, where it was sent to a Republican appointee, Judge Walker, in the landmark case Perry v. Schwarzenegger. After Judge Walker's ruling, Prop. 8's defendants appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which must decide whether to entertain arguments for and against gay marriage in a national arena.
Black, a writer on Big Love and Oscar nominee for Milk, quoted directly from Perry v. Schwarzenegger transcripts so as to frame this debate as a taut courtroom drama. The play was constructed in such a way celebrities from George Clooney to Brad Pitt could perform it after only a few rehearsals. Following its original L.A. and New York runs, Black allows 8 to be performed by casts of local actors in states like Washington, where elections approach on the question of gay marriage.
Rev. Carol McKinley of Washington State Unitarian Universalist Voices for Justice sought to produce the show in Oly and asked Ned Hayes to produce it. He in turn chose Brian Tyrrell, best known for his work at Harlequin Productions, to direct. Tyrrell was intrigued.
"This isn't a playwright who's spinning a good yarn from his or her imagination, but a retelling of a factual event," he says. "Truth can be more powerful than fiction."
McKinley adds, "My Unitarian Universalist faith calls me to honor the inherent worth and dignity of every person ... Unitarian Universalism asks us not only to affirm principles, but to work for justice in our world - to take those principles out of our churches and onto the sidewalk."
The show will be performed by actors who've worked for every local troupe. Attorneys for the prosecution are played by Scott Douglas, an actual attorney who was Polonius in Animal Fire Theatre's Hamlet, and Peter Kappler, co-director of Fiction at Capitol Playhouse. Judge Walker is Andy Gordon, last seen in the Saint Martin's University production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Even the Weekly Volcano has a role; your humble correspondent essays Charles Cooper, counsel for the defense.
Referendum 74 comes before voters Nov. 6, and if it passes, gay marriage will be legal throughout Washington state. Oly's production of 8 constitutes more than just the chance to enjoy a variety of "local all-star" talent for only $10 a ticket. It's also a powerfully "edutaining" way for Washingtonians to contemplate arguments for and against marriage equality as our shared moment in history approaches.
[The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, 8, $10, 7:30 p.m., Fri.-Sat. Sept. 28-29, 512 Washington St. SE, Olympia, 360.753.8585]