A lyrical trip from the glitz of theater to the darkest corners of the American justice system.
When Erik and Jessica met, they didn’t know that they’d date, marry, and write an acclaimed play together. But they did, and now they’re here to tell us the story behind the story. Social-activist Jessica dragged Erik to a conference on the death penalty, and both were riveted and horrified by learning about people put on death row for crimes they didn’t commit. They left the conference determined to write a play about the wrongly convicted, and so they traveled the country, interviewing dozens of former death row inmates. The play they ultimately produced about six of those people, The Exonerated, ran on Broadway to much acclaim (Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins were in the cast). It toured the country and was seen by Supreme Court justices and by Illinois Governor George Ryan, who subsequently commuted the sentences of all 167 prisoners on Illinois’s death row. Central to the present book are the authors’ descriptions of their travels, including their interviews with Dale Johnston, who’d been wrongly convicted of killing his stepdaughter and her boyfriend, and Clarence Brandley, an exonerated man in that belly of the beast, Texas. Blank and Jensen weave the story of their own relationship, up to and including their honeymoon, into the account, but romance is decidedly a subplot; there’s just enough information so you don’t feel cheated by a coy, withholding memoirist, yet the love story never detracts from the real one, while the behind-the-scenes look at getting a play produced is a delightful bonus. To boot, the two are wonderful writers, able to avoid the tics that can mar duo-first-person accounts—there’s no “I (Jessica) did such-and-such”—and the prose is funny and crisp. Indeed, the recounting of the play is every bit as affecting as the play itself.
Don’t read this unless you’re prepared to be saddened, encouraged, and changed.