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First Nighter: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Other Bold-Face Names Fight for Same-Sex Marriage in Dustin Lance Black's Docu-Drama "8"

Posted: 07/16/2012 11:32 am

George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Martin Sheen, Kevin Bacon, Jamie Lee Curtis, Christine Lahti, John C. Reilly, Jane Lynch, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Matthew Morrison, Chris Colfer, Yeardley Smith and Matt Bomer are in the cast. Oscar-winning (Milk) Dustin Lance Black wrote the script. Rob Reiner is the director.

So you want to know what the movie is, and why you haven't heard of it. Well, whadya know? It's not a movie. It's 8, a two-CD L.A. Theatre Works (LATW) recording ($29.95, 128 minutes) of a concert reading of a play taken from the transcript of the California District 12 trial instigated by the American Federation for Equal Rights (AFER). It's the one concerning the constitutionality of the state's Proposition 8, which overturned the same-sex marriage law only months after it had been instated.

Uh-oh, you're thinking. a court transcript. The proceedings -- in which Chief Judge Vaughn Walker (Pitt) ultimately finds for the plaintiffs -- could be cut-and-dry. They aren't. They're juicy as can be with anti-8 lawyers and old friends (often on opposing sides of an issue) David Boies (Clooney) and Theodore B. Olson (Sheen) undercutting defense attorney Charles Cooper (Bacon) left, right and center. As they present hefty arguments for their contentions, defanging the only two witnesses Cooper can muster, they see to it the sheer weight of their belief that same-sex couples indisputably have the right to wed is irrefutable.

Dramatist Black -- who, like everyone associated with the project, insists there's no denying these civil rights -- doesn't rely solely on the court record to make his theatrical point. To alternate with the court events, he includes scenes shared by one of the two couples whom AFER is specifically championing. Sandy Stier (Curtis) and Kris Perry (Lahti) carry on a continuing discussion with sons Elliott (Jansen Panettiere) and Spencer (Bridger Zadina) over the boys' difficulty with understanding the necessity of the case. The family devotion they represent is understatedly established.

Particularly emotional before Chief Judge Walker hands down his decision are speeches given by Kris Perry on her fight to have a child and by Paul Katami (Morrison), partnered with Jeff Zarrillo (Bomer), on how his self-esteem is permanently affected after an incident in which his sexuality is mocked by a stranger. The claims made for dignity in both instances pack a heartfelt punch.

8 may strike some as preaching to the choir. It could provoke some detractors adamantly convinced that same-sex unions aren't guaranteed by the Constitution. They might insist Black's treatment is biased, that he has somehow jiggled the evidence for liberal purposes. The truth is, it isn't and he hasn't. There's simply no possible substantiation for the opposite view. With the celebrity cache of those appearing on it -- certainly dedicated AFER founder Reiner lending support -- the CDs add significantly to the growing conviction that nation-wide same-sex marriage rights are inevitable.

The weight of this landmark case is supplemented by three interviews LATW director Susan Albert Loewenberg conducts with several of the actors, with lawyers Boies and Olson, and with Black and Reiner. Each of the committed partisans speaks lucidly and passionately about his or her participation and why Black's play, available to be presented wherever there's regional or community interest, demands attention.

 
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