The words are powerful enough by themselves.
"The Exonerated" is a play stripped bare. It tells the true stories of six innocent death row inmates. There are no props or scenery. Just the actors and the stories they tell.
Misspent Youth Productions puts on the staged reading Feb. 10 and Feb. 11 at ARTworks in Beaufort.
Writers Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen culled the play from interviews they conducted across the country with 40 wrongfully convicted death row inmates. It tells the stories of people such as Delbert Tibbs, once convicted of a rape and murder only to be later freed when a jailhouse informant who claimed to hear Tibbs confess to the crime admitted to fabricating his testimony.
The play debuted in 2002, eventually running off-Broadway for 600 performances. A made-for-TV version included Danny Glover, Susan Sarandon and Brian Dennehy.
Stephen Murray wasn't too familiar with the production when he was approached to direct it for ARTworks, but once he heard the concept, he couldn't turn it down.
"I read it and fell in love with it," he said. "It'll be interesting to see how it'll be received."
The play confronts many controversial subjects, sometimes in coarse language. It shouldn't be seen as a condemnation of the judicial system, although it does shine light on its flaws, but rather the stereotypes and misperceptions that nearly damned the freed inmates. For example, the case of Tibbs, a black man convicted by an all-white jury, deals with racial prejudice.
"My hope is that it will start a conversation," he said.
Because the production is so bare, the challenge has been drawing the emotion from the stories, knowing how to create drama and keep an audience engaged just by telling a story, Murray said. It's a difficult task, but, if done correctly, can make for a unique performance, he said.
"It's a special piece," Murray said. "It's not the typical type of theater that happens around here."