Theater Review: 'The Exonerated' -- 3 stars
The hybrid genre of documentary theater, which walks a fine line between factual journalism and dramatic storytelling, came under intense scrutiny last season after monologuist Mike Daisy admitted that significant portions of his show "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs" had in fact been fabricated.
But before Daisy rose to fame, Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen took the genre by storm with their somber 90-minute drama "The Exonerated," which is now receiving a 10th anniversary revival by the Culture Project, which originally produced the play, at the same Off-Broadway theater.
Based on interviews with ex-cons who were wrongfully convicted and sentenced to Death Row, "The Exonerated" explores the stories of about a dozen such people and reveals their backgrounds, why they were arrested, what happened at trial, life in prison and how they finally got released.
Just in case you were wondering just how truthful the play is, an author's note read aloud assures the audience that every word in it comes straight from court transcripts, personal interviews or other records.
As directed by Bob Balaban, the cast members are seated along a straight line of chairs on an empty, pitch-black stage. While there is no movement whatsoever throughout the show, there is more than enough drama and trauma in the words alone.
The cast is made up of a few permanent members plus others who will rotate throughout the run including Stockard Channing and Brian Dennehy (who appear in the show through Sept. 23), Chris Sarandon and Brooke Shields.
The play remains a straightforward, engrossing and often terrifying piece of theater, with an ultimate "it could happen to you, too" message attached to the various tales.
The cast captures the desperation, confusion and anger of their characters without ever dipping into histrionics.
If you go: "The Exonerated" plays at the Culture Project through Nov. 4. 45 Bleecker St., 866-811-4111, cultureproject.org.