Often times celebrities are given rolling eyes when they become invested in a political movement, but their collective star power can make a major impact. On March 3 at the Ebell of Los Angeles, The American Foundation for Equal Rights staged a one-night-only reading, verbatim theatre style, of a play that was written by Academy-award winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black (Milk) and directed by Rob Reiner (The Bucket List). The play was based on the transcripts from the Perry vs. Schwarzeneggger trial, which AFER filed with the district court to overturn Proposition 8, the bill preventing gay and lesbian couples from marrying in California.
Brad Pitt (Moneyball) read as Judge Vaughn Walker, prosecuting attorneys Theodore B. Olson and David Boies were played by Martin Sheen (West Wing) and George Clooney (The Descendants) respectively and defense attorney Charles J. Cooper was played Kevin Bacon (X-Men: First Class). The case featured two couples, a lesbian couple Sandy Stier and Kris Perry played by Jamie Lee Curtis and Christine Lahti who raised two boys from birth to their teenage years, and a gay couple Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo played by Matthew Morrison (Glee) and Matt Bomer (White Collar) who have been in a long-term relationship wishing to marry in California.
The stunning words spoken in trial were read in powerful and effective fashion by the actors and were made even more enlightening with the support of conversations Stier and Perry had with their sons and interviews with with Katami and Zarrillo. Their words showed that marriage is not just a label to gay couples but being denied that right is another example of the discrimination and prejudice they face every day in their lives.
The live stream of the reading attracted 200,000 viewers according to Reiner and is available for viewing on Youtube and on the AFER website. It can be viewed below. The first 30 minutes of the presentation is a collection of the propaganda ads that were aired on television in support of Proposition 8 as well as notable clips of politicians supporting the ban of gay marriage. Viewers have the option to skip ahead to the beginning of the 90 minute reading.
This play was created because no cameras were allowed in the hearing, drawing attention away from the defense’s weak case. No public access was given to trial until after the decision was made by Walker’s ruling. Their hope is that the LA reading will go viral and with the star power attached, would reach an audience that would not go out of their way to see the Broadway production of the play. Reiner is also directing a documentary about Prop 8 that will be released in 2013. When the real prosecuting attorneys joined Reiner and the cast at the end of the reading, Olson declared that “Fear and prejudice were put on trial and fear and prejudice lost,” as they hope to raise awareness of the case and take the matter to the Supreme Court.
Others playing smaller but important parts are Yeardley Smith (The Simpsons), George Takei (Heroes, The Howard Stern Show), Bridger Zadina, Jansen Panettiere, James Pickens Jr. (Grey’s Anatomy), John C. Reilly (Chicago), Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Modern Family), Jane Lynch (Glee), Chris Colfer (Glee), Vanessa Garcia, Cleve Jones, Campbell Brown (The Today Show), Rory O’Malley (Dreamgirls).
The play is currently being performed on Broadway featuring Lahti, Bomer, and many who were featured in the LA reading of 8 and also feature Ellen Barkin, Morgan Freeman, John Lithgow, Bob Balaban, Anthony Edwards amongst others.