Play discusses torture

February 25, 2010
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Submitted by IL Staff reporter Rebecca Berfanger:

“Sunlight,” a play that examines both sides of the debate on torture of detainees, opens tonight at the Phoenix Theatre in Indianapolis. It will be performed through March 20, including post-performance discussions March 5 and 14 featuring experts on the issues the characters present in the play.

The Phoenix invited me to attend a run-through of the play Tuesday night. After seeing it, I can say it will definitely encourage discussion on the legal aspects of the debate on torture and the rule of law following the terror attacks of Sept. 11.

Three of the four characters in the play are attorneys: Matthew, the zealous liberal president of a prestigious East Coast university; Vincent, the university president’s son-in-law and conservative dean of the university’s law school; and Charlotte, the president’s daughter and Vincent’s wife, herself a conservative lawyer in private practice. The fourth character is Matthew’s long-time assistant Midge, who tends to side with her boss, and provides comic relief from time to time.

The play opens the day after the president has allegedly ransacked the law school dean’s office in retaliation over the dean’s work supporting torture, including a course called, “The Law of Terror.” Due to the allegations following this incident, the university’s board is holding a meeting to vote on whether he should be allowed to stay in his position. Meanwhile, as Matthew’s daughter and lawyer, Charlotte is handling calls from the local media and shredding seemingly irrelevant documents at Matthew’s home.

Eventually Vincent and Matthew face each other in a passionate debate where Vincent explains why he is for torture, and Matthew takes a stand as to why he is adamantly opposed to it. Meanwhile, Charlotte, who has a very personal connection to Sept. 11 that affects both important men in her life, is torn between her loyalty to her father and to her husband, while coming to terms with her own views on the issue.

The play is especially relevant to Indiana’s legal community, considering Indiana University Maurer School of Law – Bloomington professor Dawn Johnsen’s nomination is still pending for the Office of Legal Counsel. While the play doesn’t expressly mention Johnsen, it does refer to the OLC’s work in allowing torture during the Bush administration. Johnsen’s reports against the work of the OLC under President George W. Bush are part of why she’s been a controversial nominee. (She was on the schedule for today’s Senate Judiciary Committee meeting, but was postponed for the fourth time since she was re-nominated earlier this year).

The first post-play discussion will feature Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis School of Public and Environmental Affairs faculty members Sheila Suess Kennedy and Jim White, who will be available following the 8 p.m. performance March 5. Kennedy specializes in civil rights and was executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana from 1992 to 1998. White served on the Indiana State Police for more than 20 years and serves as director of emergency management for Indianapolis/Marion County.

The post-play discussion March 14 will take place after the 2 p.m. performance and will feature history professor Peter DiMeglio. DiMeglio taught for 37 years at the University of Wisconsin, specializing in history of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries and world civilization. He was also the director of the University of Wisconsin’s Institute of International Studies.

The Indianapolis theatre is the second venue to produce the play as part of its National New Play Network’s Rolling World Premiere, following its first production at Marin Theatre Company in Mill Valley, Calif.

Phoenix Theatre is located at 749 N. Park Ave., Indianapolis. For ticket information and show times, visit the theatre’s Web site or call (317) 635-7529.

If you make it to a performance, let us know what you think.
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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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