Execution of Justice by Emily Mann

Pioneer Theatre Babcock Stage, University of Utah ATP, 2004


Execution of Justice ran from January 28 trough February 8, 2004 on the Babcock Stage at Pioneer Theatre, in Salt Lake City, Utah.  The acting company was comprised of students in the Actor Training Program at the University of Utah; not only did they embrace George Moscone and Harvey Milk, who died before most of them were born, but they did them justice, in their words, their deeds, their discipline. They rocked the house.

In addition to enjoying my time with these students, it was a thrill to work on a piece of social justice theatre, and also to wrestle with how to integrate several divergent worlds on one stage, often interwoven with one another on a line-by-line basis. Unfortunately, those moments where the court room and the street intersected, where temporal and spatial realities collided, were also the most difficult to capture on film, so they are not represented here visually.

My program notes

In his closing argument, defense attorney Douglas Schmidt appealed for justice. He got the best possible verdict for his client under the circumstances, but did he get justice? (Was he truly interested in justice?) What would justice have looked like in the case of the People vs. Dan White? Would justice have sent Dan White to the gas chamber, or to San Quentin for the rest of his natural life? Was true justice even among the options available to Dan White and the people? Was there or is there any way to do justice to the lives and deaths of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor — and civil rights activist — Harvey Milk? Reasonable people can disagree about the answers to these questions and learn to better understand one another through constructive disagreement.

In a society where the Attorney General is working to dispense his unique version of justice through creative rewrites of the Bill of Rights and military tribunals; and in a world where, twenty-five years after the assassination of the first openly gay elected official in the United States, the Anglican Church is on the verge of schism over the consecration of a theologically moderate but avowedly homosexual bishop, it seems that we have not honored

George Moscone and Harvey Milk

George Moscone (left) and Harvey Milk

George Moscone (left) and Harvey Milk

We have nearly forgotten their contributions rather than expounded upon them. George Moscone, in the California State Senate, led the fight to make homosexuality legal. Prior to his efforts, it was not even legal to simply be gay in California, much less to act on one’s natural impulses. Harvey Milk rightly belongs next to Martin Luther King in our pantheon of civil rights leaders; like MLK, Harvey sensed that he “might not get there with you, brothers and sisters,” but he helped to give his people a taste of freedom, self-respect, and economic as well as political power. Had he lived, Moscone might have been governor of California in the 1980s, and Harvey was already thinking about running for Mayor of San Francisco when Moscone’s tenure came to an end. We can only wonder what these two leaders might have accomplished, had Dan White not gunned them down.

What comprises justice?

We should question our system of justice. Not mindlessly argue, but intelligently inquire, thoughtfully challenge. The founding fathers were the first to admit that these United States were, and are, an experiment. We should ask what comprises justice, not simply for Dan White, but also for a Yemeni-American who visited Afghanistan, as well as for the rest of us. We must interrogate our biases: why does a gay bishop or a gay marriage — a union between two people who love one another and wish to build a life together — threaten us, or undermine our social fabric? It seems likely that, if we as citizens do not take great care, our upcoming national election may rend the country even further as it circles these issues. We need to remember George Moscone and Harvey Milk, both what they strove for and what befell them. These are not, in the words of the wise Bruce Springsteen, liberal or conservative questions, these are American questions, and asking them, discussing them, is part of your responsibility when you are born in the U.S.A.


The Salt Lake Tribune:
Execution of Justice expertly dissects a murder case that divided America… Director Kathleen Powers seamlessly integrated the play’s myriad elements and orchestrates the action with focus and intensity.”

The Daily Utah Chronicle:
“Well-executed Execution of Justice: It is a rare treat to have a guest director such as Kathleen Powers at the helm… [this] should not be missed.”

Deseret Morning News:
Justice takes a well-executed look at S.F. trial: [Powers’] intriguingly staged drama is able to keep things well focused.”

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