Death penalty on the stage 

I didn’t know anything about Jimmie Ray Slaughter until the weekly Oklahoma Gazette (Oklahoma City’s version of the Arkansas Times) did a cover story late last month on the death row inmate. He was executed March 15, but not before state officials were implored to look closely at discrepancies in the evidence that seemed 11 years ago to confirm his guilt. The case revolved around the heinous murder of Slaughter’s ex-girlfriend and their 11-month-old child. He didn’t want to pay child support. He reportedly told folks he’d kill the woman if she persisted to demand he pay. Plenty of evidence implicated him, but there were witnesses who placed him in Kansas at the time of the slayings. Evidence taken at face value in the early 1990s was eventually discredited, but Slaughter’s appeals had run out. Slaughter very well may have done what he was accused of, but an investigator on the case claims he was removed from it because his superiors didn’t like the questions he was asking, and it appeared other possible suspects weren’t being looked at hard enough. It is death row cases like these that inspired the stirring Off-Broadway play “The Exonerated,” which later was filmed for a Court TV show. Though the socially-conscious Weekend Theater, led by artistic director Ralph Hyman, hasn’t announced next season’s slate of plays, I’ve learned from a source that Bob Balaban’s “The Exonerated” will be on the Weekend’s schedule. In New York, “The Exonerated” featured a rotation of top actors (we saw Bebe Neuwirth and Chad Lowe the day we attended) who sit in chairs and portray real people and movingly read their death-row stories. But you don’t have to wait for the Weekend Theater to address capital punishment: On Friday, the Weekend Theater will open John Logan’s “Never the Sinner: The Leopold and Loeb Story,” about one of the most shocking crimes in U.S. history, when in the 1920s rich New York teen-agers Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb randomly picked an innocent man to murder to prove they were above the law. Clarence Darrow (played by Alan Douglas) defended the pair. Talented local acting brothers Jason and Gabey Smoller play the accused. The play is made even more timely with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to ban capital punishment for children under 18 years old. To get audiences thinking about conflicting views on capital punishment, members of the Arkansas Coalition Against the Death Penalty will explore the issues in talkbacks after each performance. Hyman, who directs, says the play asks, “Do we do unto others as they have done, or do we address punishment in a more humane manner?” Showtimes for “Never the Sinner” are 8 p.m. March 25-26, April 1-2 and April 8-9. Tickets are $14 for adults and $10 for students and seniors. The Weekend Theater is at Seventh and Chester streets (across from Vino’s Brewpub). Call 374-3761. The Arkansas Repertory Theatre has made a late change to its season, substituting the rollicking Broadway classic “Ain’t Misbehavin’ ” for “Hot Mikado.” The Tony Award-winning show is scheduled to run May 6-June 5. Lawrence Hamilton, the Broadway actor now working as choir director for Philander Smith College, was scheduled to star in “Hot Mikado.” Instead, Hamilton will now direct next season’s “Crowns,” a gospel-influenced musical scheduled for Jan. 27-Feb. 19, 2006. Reading between the lines here, the Rep was looking for a popular play to boost its season attendance, and in a survey taken during the run of “A Soldier’s Play,” “Ain’t Misbehavin’ ” was the highest scoring musical in the poll. “Ain’t Misbehavin’ ” is based on the music of Fats Waller. Also, the Rep will substitute “A Chorus Line” next season for the recently announced “Chicago.”

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