Weeks ago, Arvin Brown, outgoing artistic director of Connecticut's Long Wharf Theatre, announced that Joe Sutton's courtroom drama, Voir Dire, will play at the theatre June 3-July 6, 1997. The show replaces The God Of Vengeance, Donald Margulies' adaptation of a Yiddish classic.
Gordon Edelstein, who was to direct God, will stage Voir Dire, which is a co-production with Washington D.C.'s Arena Stage. Arena has the production now through April 13. The cast features Vanessa Aspillaga, Steve Cell, Robin Weigert, Tana Hicken, Phyllis Yvonne Stickney (as the lone African-American on the jury), Miranda Kent, Drew Kahl and Patrick Trainor.
Not to be outdone, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis is opening its own production of Voir Dire, March 21. Jay E. Raphael directs a cast that includes Susan Cella, R. Ward Duffy, Melissa King, Selenis Leyva, Leah Maddrie and Nicole Marcks. Designers are John Roslevich Jr. (Set), Dorothy L. Marshall (costumes) and Mark Wilson (lighting). The drama at The Rep began previews March 19 and runs to April 6.
Of Voir Dire, the Long Wharf's Brown said, "[It's] a searing, committed portrait of a jury in the 90's. The characters are strong, and the puzzle which confronts them very intriguing indeed . . . [It's] a wonderfully crafted play which addresses itself to a burning topical issue." Arena Stage's artistic director, Douglas Wager, said, "I hope anyone who attends Voir Dire will leave the theatre a little more forgiving, a little more empathic, and probably a better citizen." The legal term "voir dire" comes from the Old French "to speak the truth" and refers to a preliminary examination to determine a witness' or juror's competency. In the play, which was written pre-O.J. In 1992, a prominent black man is on trial for drug possession. Is it an open-and-shut case -- or was the client framed by a racist police department.
Production spokesperson Kimberly Sewright told Playbill On-Line that although most people hear about Voir Dire and immediately think of O.J., for her the connection is much closer to Marion Barry, the Washington DC mayor busted for cocaine use. "The play really tries to answer questions we all have about the justice system," Sewright said. "How can you be sure who is on a jury of `peers?' Also, blacks and whites have a very different view of the justice system."
As for the postponement of Vengeance, Edelstein said, "Donald Margulies is a major American writer, and his adaptation of the Yiddish classic will undoubtedly be seminal. We look forward to producing it at Long Wharf very soon." Production spokesperson Kimberly Sewright told Playbill On-Line the God postponement was mutual between the theatre and the playwright.
For tickets and information on Voir Dire at the Long Wharf in New Haven, call (203) 787-4282. For tickets and information on Voir Dire at Arena Stage in Washington DC, call (202) 488-3300. For tickets and information on Voir Dire at Repertory Theatre Of St. Louis call (314) 968-4925.
--By David Lefkowitz