'8' The Play | Fabulous NobodysThe play is called simply 8. For some just a number but for those involved in the long struggle for marriage equality, a notorious one. Five years ago, California looked set to secure its progressive reputation when its Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional to ban same sex marriages. Proposition 8 was the controversial strike back from opponents of the reform, a proposition to change the State constitution to enable the ban to continue.   

The play is an account of one of the key court cases challenging the legality of Proposition 8 after the constitution had been altered. Writer Dustin Lance Black, best known for penning the scripts of such films as Milk and J. Edgar, has gone with a documentary theatre approach. The script is drawn from court transcripts of the rather excitingly named Perry v. Schwarzenegger trial, interviews with those involved in the case and excerpts from the heated debate over gay marriage in the American media. Black has selected material with an eye for natural drama, succinctly capturing the essence of the clashing viewpoints and embodying the stories of people from different walks of queer life who came forward as plaintiffs in the case.  

It is very much a play of the moment. Perry v. Schwarzenegger played out in 2010 and the legal back and forth of appeals is still going in the US Supreme Court, with the final ruling due later this year. Readings of the play have been happening across America since late 2011, from high profile performances featuring the likes of George Clooney, Morgan Freeman and Jennifer Lee Curtis, to productions by university theatre groups and amateur companies.

Here in Australia we’ve had a couple of celebrity readings but this performance for Midsumma is by local amateur company Fabulous Nobodys. The actors perform, as Clooney and co do in the big American readings, with script in hand although they don’t need to look down much, all being enthusiastically focused on their performance. 

While it has a definite community theatre vibe to it, complete with occasional technical gaffes and at times overly theatrical acting, this adds a certain level of charm to it. Every performance is heartfelt, and the palpable commitment from the cast drives home the power of the script. The stories of the plaintiffs in particular are touching and often send ripples of emotional response through the audience. 

While Australian audiences may not be familiar with the specific public figures being portrayed, the characters and themes are strongly resonant. Every performance is followed by a forum on marriage equality, hosted by Joy FM’s charismatic Dean Beck and featuring an impressive line-up of speakers, so the issues raised by the play segue directly into discussion of how the same issues are at play in Australia.

This is everything community theatre should be: current, focused, passionate and offering direct engagement with the public. If you want to see it live and take part in the forum it’s only playing til Saturday at Chapel Off Chapel but the George Clooney version is up online (www.afer.org/live) or you could even put it on yourself, with the license to stage readings freely available at www.8theplay.com. Those who have put it on for Midsumma this year deserve praise for their lively, impassioned and timely delivery of this important piece.

Stephen J & Michelle R Barber in conjunction with The Fabulous Nobodys Theatre Company presents
'8' The Play
by Dustin Lance Black

Directed by Stephen Barber

Venue: Chapel Off Chapel | 12 Little Chapel Street, Prahran VIC
Dates: 31 January – 2 February, 2013
Tickets: $35 – $32
Bookings: 03 8290 7000 | www.chapeloffchapel.com.au


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