Proposition 8 – the legislation that sought to ban same-sex marriage in California – has been the source of much debate in recent years. It’s also the subject of a new play called 8 that was written by out Oscar winner Dustin Lance Black. The play is making its way around the country during special events. On May 7 (7:30 p.m.), 8 will enjoy a one-night-only reading at the Wilma Theater in Philly.
The play - an unprecedented account of the Federal District Court trial in Perry v. Schwarzenegger (now Perry v. Brown) – chronicles the case filed by the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER) to overturn Proposition 8, which stripped gay and lesbian Californians of the fundamental right to marry.
“People need to witness what happened in the Proposition 8 trial, if for no other reason than to see inequality and discrimination unequivocally rejected in a court of law where truth and facts matter,” says Black, the screenwriter and an AFER founding board member. “The goal of 8 is to show the world that marriage equality is a basic constitutional right. The facts are on our side and truth always finds the light. AFER and Broadway Impact are doing all we can to help speed that process along.”
Black also penned the screenplay for the film Milk about the assassinated gay rights pioneer Harvey Milk, as well as the film J. Edgar. Much like these historically based movies that made him famous, 8 is based on the actual words of the trial transcripts, first-hand observations of the courtroom drama and interviews with the plaintiffs and their families.
The Wilma Theater’s production of 8 will star Tony Award nominee Gavin Creel (Hair) and a cast of New York and Philadelphia actors. The Wilma’s own Walter Bilderback will direct.
“It felt natural and unavoidable to present 8,” explains Bilderback, ”since we’re working on Tony Kushner’s Angels in America at the same time. Although many people think of it as ‘an AIDS play,’ Angels is ‘a Gay Fantasia on American Themes,’ and one of the largest themes in the play is the promise of America. At the end of Perestroika, the second half of the play, Prior Walter says, ‘The world only spins forward. We will be citizens. The time has come.’ The right to get married is a fundamental aspect of citizenship, recognition that a society accepts a couple’s bond of love.” (Angels opens at the Wilma on May 23.)
The story for 8 is framed by the trial’s historic closing arguments in June 2010, and features reenacted testimony from both sides of the marriage equality debate. Scenes also include flashbacks to some of the more controversial moments in the courtroom, such as the admission by the Proposition 8 supporters’ star witness, David Blankenhorn, that “we would be more American on the day we permitted same-sex marriage than we were on the day before.”
In addition to its Broadway and Los Angeles productions, AFER and Broadway Impact are licensing 8 to colleges and community theaters around the country this year.
And as for the fate of Prop 8, it was struck down by the Federal District Court in August 2010. That ruling was appealed by anti-marriage proponents, but a new ruling on the constitutionality of Proposition 8 and the release of the trial video is expected soon. It may end up in the Supreme Court.
8, Wilma Theater, Broad and Spruce sts., May 7, 7:30 p.m., 215-546-7824 (proceeds from ticket sales support AFER).