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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