Theater Review: ‘The Exonerated’

In the executioner’s shadow

By Barry Bassis Created: November 11, 2012 Last Updated: November 11, 2012
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(L–R) Brian Dennehy, Delroy Lindo, and Stockard Channing taking part in the production of “The Exonerated.” (Carol Rosegg)

(L–R) Brian Dennehy, Delroy Lindo, and Stockard Channing taking part in the production of “The Exonerated.” (Carol Rosegg)

NEW YORK—The Exonerated at the Culture Project uses the simplest of means: 10 actors seated behind music stands on a bare stage. Six of the actors appear at all the performances and the other four are part of a rotating cast.

Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen are credited as the authors, but the text is composed almost entirely of the words of six former prison inmates they interviewed.

Basically, The Exonerated is a series of victim statements. The twist is that the perpetrators are the criminal justice system. The victims are people who were convicted and sentenced to death, even though all were later shown to be innocent.

The victims’ plight is commonplace: racist police and prosecutors, incompetent assigned counsel, perjured testimony, and coerced confessions. Yet each is beautifully delineated through language that contains poetry, humor, and horror.

At the performance I attended, Chris Sarandon played Kerry Max Cook, imprisoned for 22 years, in part, because the prosecutor labeled him a homosexual.

Stockard Channing played Sunny Jacobs, who was released after 18 years but whose companion (also innocent) was executed.

Brian Dennehy played Gary Gauger, convicted of killing his parents and coerced into giving a hypothetical statement that was then used against him as a confession.

Delroy Lindo played Delbert Tibbs, who maintained a wry, philosophical view of life even after his wrongful imprisonment.

Permanent cast members JD Williams and April Yvette Thompson play Robert Earl Hayes and his wife, Georgia, who endure his incarceration and then his unease after release.

If each is unforgettable, director Bob Balaban, who also directed the original production 10 years ago, deserves a significant share of the credit.

The Exonerated
Culture Project
45 Bleecker Street
Tickets: 866-811-4111 or visit
Running Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Closes: Dec. 2

Barry Bassis writes about music, theater, travel, and dining for various publications.

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