The O+M Co., Joan Marcus, Associated Press
NEW YORK — For anyone who missed the star-studded, one-night-only Broadway debut of the gay marriage play "8'' or can't get to Los Angeles this spring to see George Clooney lead a West Coast version, there's hope: The play is coming to a theater near you.
The only bad news — no Clooney.
The pro-gay marriage American Foundation for Equal Rights and partner Broadway Impact are sponsoring dozens of productions of Dustin Lance Black's play starring local actors across the country this election year. It'll be shown in states where marriage battles loom, including Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire and North Carolina.
Adam Umhoefer, the foundation's project director, said the glitzy Broadway show and upcoming California counterpart help fund getting the play mounted elsewhere. "Those big tent-pole shows bring attention to the play so that all these other groups across the country can work on their productions," he said.
The play is mostly culled from the transcripts of the 2010 federal court battle that dealt with the legality of Proposition 8, the ballot initiative that outlawed same-sex marriage in California.
Black's play was first performed on Broadway as a one-time benefit reading in September starring Morgan Freeman, Ellen Barkin, Anthony Edwards, Bradley Whitford, John Lithgow, Cheyenne Jackson, Christine Lahti and Rob Reiner, who is developing a film based on the trial. The Broadway event raised more than $1 million and Clooney will lead his own starry version in Los Angeles on March 3.
The trial is important to gay activists because former U.S. Solicitor General Theodore Olson and attorney David Boies — who represented opposing sides in the disputed 2000 presidential election — put on a powerfully clear argument in favor of same-sex marriage. It was recorded but Prop. 8 backers have so far succeeded in getting the U.S. Supreme Court to bar broadcast of the landmark case.
That's spurred AFER and Broadway Impact to get "8'' out into the nation. While they insist the play is fair to opponents, "8'' clearly champions same-sex unions mostly because those who support gay marriage marshaled the most powerful arguments at trial. The judge in the case sided with gay rights activists and ruled Prop. 8 unconstitutional, but the decision has been appealed.
After the Broadway reading, a test version was produced at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor in November, which featured a mix of alumni and students led by Michigan graduate and Tony Award-winner Gavin Creel. The question everyone wanted answered was: Would the play work without big stars or established actors?
"The answer was overwhelmingly yes," said Umhoefer, who traveled to Michigan to see the performance. "It worked. It played. It convinced us that it didn't need John Lithgow up there to make this play have impact."
Some of the first productions this year will be in New Hampshire, where gay-rights activists are fighting an attempt to repeal the state's gay-marriage law. "8'' will be performed at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, N.H., on Feb. 7 and then three days later at the Palace Theatre in Manchester, N.H.
"In places where there is specific action being taken — where marriage equality is going to become a reality or going to be prohibited legally, or perhaps, in the case of New Hampshire, repealed — that is a focus and where we want to make sure this play is seen and heard," said Umhoefer.
More than 40 readings are scheduled from now until November in more than 17 states so far. It will be produced by colleges such as Stanford University in California, Towson University in Maryland and the University of Toledo in Ohio to theater companies such as the Uptown Players in Dallas and the American Repertory Theatre outside Boston. It will also be included in the Williamstown Theatre Festival and Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
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