By Sharr White
Directed by Jasson Minadakis
Marin Theatre Company
Boyer Theater
January 26-Feb. 14, 2010

The Gestapo convinced the Germans that the Jews were their enemy. Then they proceeded to limit the freedom of both the Jews AND the Germans by convincing their citizens that they were protecting them. We in this country go through endless lines at airports, removing our shoes, handing over our water bottles, silently obeying restrictions on what we can carry aboard an airplane because OUR government has convinced us that it is protecting us against a terrorist attack.

I believe in free speech. I do NOT believe in torture of any kind. I live in a country that protects my right to say what I believe in a public forum. Do I have the right to keep someone who does believe in torture from expressing his views? Of course don’t. But let us take this one step further: Do I have a right to implement a policy that allows torturing people I suspect are my enemies even if I have no real proof that they are a danger to anyone?

These are the issues that are posed in SUNLIGHT, Marin Theatre’s premier production of Sharr White’s thought provoking play about University Dean Matthew Gibbon’s (Charles Dean) vicious destruction of his son-in-law Vincent’s (Kevin Rolston) property and papers. Vincent, whose political leanings have moved farther and farther to the right since his horrific involvement in the 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York City, was once Gibbon’s protégé. Now that he has promoted and implemented a White House policy to reduce limitations on the use of torture in interrogation, Gibbon feels betrayed by the very man he helped become dean of the law school at his University.

Between 2002-2005, key members of the Bush administration decided to use “enhanced interrogation” methods on suspects that have been widely criticized for their violation of human rights. The question this play asks is, “What is the right way to go about reversing this policy without violating the rights of those who support it?

Theater is one of the best arenas to expose the dichotomy between what we think our moral standards are and how they are ignored. All too often the laws we make to protect us, violate our freedoms and turn are concept of justice around. No one likes to think of their legal system as a web of prejudicial, biased laws that protect only the wealthy and influential. No one wants to believe that we are supporting persecution of innocent people without any proof of their guilt. David Mamet and Sam Sheppard are but two of our modern playwright’s who bring the status quo to life with real characters tussling with real issues. They show us how easy it is to sacrifice our ideals when we think we are protecting ourselves. In SUNLIGHT, Sharr White has created a perfectly plausible situation where the right guy (Gibbon) gets persecuted (fired from the college) for reasons that have nothing to do with what he is fighting and everything to do with protecting our freedom of speech.

This is Charles Dean’s show. He is perfectly cast and plays his role with compassion and understanding. He IS the liberal dean who sees his belief in protecting the rights of the least of humanity as inviolable and is willing to do what it takes to defend those rights.
We see him on stage as a human being, an elderly professor, accustomed to being adulated and adored, tenaciously liberal and absolutely sure that no other opinions are as sacred as his own.
Kevin Rolston as Vincent is understated and right on key. He experienced the trauma of losing his unborn child in the 9/11 crisis and his angry fear that it will happen again convinces him that any means of catching the perpetrators is fair, no matter how many innocent people suffer. You manage to love him as a husband, as a law professor and as a very human being even as you object to the cruelty of his views and know they do nothing to get to the root of the terrorist threat we still face. The policies he advocates only intimidate everyone, innocent and guilty alike.

The two women in this play Carrie Paff and Wanda McCaddon come off as too angry, too righteous and too explosive. It is difficult to buy their characters especially in the beginning of the play. I think this is a problem with the script itself. Although I applaud White for taking on such sensitive and important issues, he does not make clear what the issues really are until the second act. The audience sits through a first act riddled with fury, rejection and hyperbole and cannot figure out what the fuss is all about.

“It is the story of a mighty liberal university president on the brink of collapse, his conservative son-in-law taking personal revenge into the realm of public policy, and his daughter recovering from her own wounds while torn between the two men she loves,” says dramaturg Margot Melcon.

The problem here is that no one knows that this is the theme of the play until well into the second act and by that time, despite Jasson Minadakis’s amazingly talented and imaginative direction, you have no time to develop any sympathy for either Charlotte, Gibbon’s daughter or Midge, the woman who has been caring for Matthew since his wife died. The cast is amazing in this play, the issues ones that should be brought to light again and again, and the overall effect of the piece is mesmerizing. It is only the script that sabotages the tension and suspense that should have been building from the opening line of the play.

There is no question that SUNLIGHT is a valuable, thought provoking theatrical experience. It is worth every minute of your time if only to experience Charles Dean take his character and make him beautiful…because that is what he does. We adore him for his courage to fight for his ideas and we adore him for his faults. That kind of characterization takes consummate acting skill and direction. For this and this alone, it is worth the price of a ticket to see SUNLIGHT.

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