Beck Center for the Art’s ‘The Exonerated’ is a lesson in judicial complacency



In the United States of America (a country that prides itself on personal freedoms) it is estimated that between 2.3% to 6% of all convicted adults are actually innocent of their crimes. This works out to mean that 1 out of 16 were wrongly convicted on bad evidence, bad eyewitness accounts or mishandled DNA.

Once a person is convicted in a court of law their chances of release prior to them serving out their entire term or in the case of murder their execution is nil. Luckily, a national organization has sprung up whose sole purpose is to investigate the cases of the wrongly convicted. The Innocence Project was formed across the nation to champion those who are serving sentences for crimes they did not commit. In Ohio it is based out of the University of Cincinnati and since 2003 their work has seen the release of 33 wrongfully convicted Ohioans who had served a collective 650 years behind bars.

On a national level nearly 3,000 prisoners have been exonerated in the past 32 years. This means that a combined 21,000 plus years were lost forever to these souls. Even after they are released their lives are an uphill battle as the stigma of their convictions (although wrongfully placed) nonetheless result in difficulty finding work and supporting their families. To add to this dilemma many states refuse to compensate wrongfully convicted prisoners once they are released.

The theatrical drama currently on stage at The Beck Center For The Arts was written by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen and was taken from over forty interviews with wrongfully convicted death row inmates across the nation. For the most part these are ordinary people who through no fault of their own found themselves in a living nightmare of prejudicial profiling, intimidation by police officers and detectives, barbaric questioning practices, the actual perpetrator who knowing the system copping a plea deal and lying about the innocent person’s involvement in order to save their own skin and an outraged local society pressing for a quick conviction in order to have some kind of closure.

The show has been recognized by a variety of social organizations that include Amnesty International, The American Bar Association, the NAACP and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and rightly so.

This is not theater for the faint of heart. We hear the true stories of six people who not only faced an early unjustified death but in some cases lost everything that was near and dear to their hearts. Years in prison changes a person and they can never go back to their old selves.

While the stories are extremely gripping they are after all words...lots of words...in fact over 105 minutes of words. The cast does their best to instill as much drama as they can with the use of various accents and voice modulations mostly done while the actorsare sitting or standing in one spot.

The cast consists of Abraham McNeil Adams as Gary, Isaiah Betts as Robert, Mell-Vonti Bowens as David, Amy Fritsche as Sunny, Stuart Hoffman as Kerry and Greg White as Delbert with members of the ensemble consisting of Andrea Belser, Samantha Cocco, Keith Kornajcik and John Polk. The show is directed by Colleen Longshaw Jackson. The Scenic Design is by Walter Boswell with Lighting Design by Tim Crisman, Sound Design by Angie Hayes and Costumes by Betty Pitcher.

This “it could happen to anyone” drama should strike a nerve in anyone who views it. What the show lacks in visually appealing action it makes up for in content. Some will find it a bit of a yawn while others will be on the edge of their seats. It will depend on your perspective.

“The Exonerated” will be on stage in the Beck Center for the Art’s Studio Theater through November 7, 2021. For more information and tickets go to www.beckcenter.org or call (216) 521-2540.

As part of the Covid protocols now in place in most venues proof of the Covid vaccine or negative testing will be required prior to going into the theater. Masks must be worn at all times while inside the building as well.

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Who is Mark Horning?

Over the course of my life I have worked a variety of jobs including newspapers, retail camera sales and photography. Eight years ago I embarked on yet another career as writer. This included articles concerning sports and cultural events in Cleveland, Ohio as well reviews of the many theatrical productions around town. These days are spent photographing professional dance groups, theater companies and various galas and festivals as well as attending various stage performances and posting reviews about them.