B y J a n a R i v e r a
ON NOVEMBER 27, 1978, Dan White, a displaced San Francisco city supervisor, called his aide to taxi him to City Hall. He planned to speak with the mayor about getting his job back. Before leaving his house, he put a loaded .38-caliber revolver in one pocket and extra ammunition in the other.
His aide drove off after dropping him at the front doors of City Hall. White then walked around the block and entered the building through a window. In the mayor's front office he asked for an appointment. Granted. Moments later, Dan White shot Mayor George Mascone four times--twice in the head.
He then left Mascone's office and went down the hall to his own, situated across the hall from City Supervisor Harvey Milk's office, stopping at some point to reload his revolver. Then calmly he hollered across the hall, "Hey Harv, can I see you a minute."
When Milk entered White's office, White shot him five times--twice in the head.
Dan White, a former cop, then went to his old precinct and confessed to the murders.
A jury of Dan White's peers said he acted without malice and
forethought. The jury said his actions were not premeditated. He committed those crimes because he suffered from "diminished capacity" brought on by depression, stress, and because he had eaten too many Twinkies.
When Dan White went to prison to serve a little more than five years for voluntary manslaughter, the prison psychologists evaluated him, but did not treat him for depression or anything else. Diagnosis: perfectly normal.
How can this happen?
Emily Mann's 1984 courtroom docudrama, Execution of Justice, attempts to answer that question. She adeptly draws on actual court
testimony to raise all of the issues that go into such a trial decision--bigotry, fear, political power, and our idea of what's truly "American." To that, she adds an opportunity to know something about the victims, focusing on Harvey Milk, through friends and the citizens of San Francisco who believed in him--a committed gay rights activist with a political voice.
The victims: San Francisco's first elected openly gay city supervisor, and a liberal mayor. The accused: A former police officer, fireman and soldier, with a love for sports and all other things "naturally" American. An American hero.
The UA Arizona Repertory Theatre performs Mann's play, re-enacting parts of the chilling trial, on Patricia England's cold, gray set. Witnesses fleetingly come and go as citizens of San Francisco react from tiered, veiled positions in the Laboratory Theatre above Dan White and his attorney. Several television monitors juxtaposed over the stage play the scenes outside the courtroom. A large screen directly behind Dan White shows the warm smile of Harvey Milk one moment, and Milk's lifeless face in a pool of blood the next.
Director Brent Gibbs skillfully guides some of the best actors Tucson has to offer through excellent performances in a play that requires perfect timing and quick movement from one line to the next. Worth mentioning in a cast of many: Jeff Cyronek as defense attorney Douglas Schmidt, Tod Zimmerman as prosecutor Thomas F. Norman, and John Sama as Dan White.
My out-of-town guest was surprised and elated with the professional essence of this student production, something the UA Theatre Arts Department does consistently, while never shying away from producing the tough plays.
Arizona Repertory Theatre's production of Execution of Justice continues with 8 p.m. performances through October 28 and 2 p.m. matinees on October 28 and 29 at the Laboratory Theatre, southeast corner of Speedway and Park Avenue. Tickets are $12 and $14 for adults, $8 and $10 for students, with discounts for seniors and UA employees. Call the UA Fine Arts box office at 621-1162 for reservations and information.
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