Star-Studded Cast Debuts Dustin Lance Black's Prop. 8 Play

Two of the entertainment industry’s leading advocates of marriage equality are combining forces Monday night in New York for a chamber reading of Academy Award-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black’s new play 8, a drama based on the litigation to overturn California’s Proposition 8, the ballot initiative that reversed the state supreme court’s ruling recognizing a constitutional right to same-sex unions.

Rehearsals for the performance were transformed into a celebration when a California federal court ruled early Monday that video records of the trial can be released to the public, something the anti-marriage equality forces had opposed and vow to appeal.

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“This is a significant victory for the American people, who will soon be able to see the evidence put forward by both sides in this historic federal trial," said Chad Griffin, board president for the Los Angeles-based American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER). "The public will soon see the extraordinarily weak case that the anti-marriage proponents presented in a desperate attempt to defend this discriminatory law."

AFER is an organization rooted in the film industry and is the sole sponsor of the so-far successful federal court challenge to Proposition 8, which passed in 2008. The foundation -- with support from David Geffen and Steve Bing -- funded a federal challenge to the ballot proposition that successfully convinced a federal court to overturn the measure.

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When the release of the tapes were in doubt, AFER teamed up with gay rights advocacy group Broadway Impact to sponsor Black's play 8 for a one night reading at New York's Eugene O’Neill Theatre. The play draws on the verbatim transcripts of the Proposition 8 trial, along with observations from the courtroom and interviews with the same-sex couples on whose behalf the challenge was mounted.

All proceeds -- which are expected to top $1 million -- from tonight’s readings will benefit the American Foundation for Equal Rights.

“Our opponents continue to fight tooth-and-nail to hide the video recordings of the Prop. 8 trial,” Griffin said. “But their campaign cannot survive in the face of our greatest strength: telling our stories proudly, openly and honestly.”

AFER and Broadway Impact have put together an all-star cast for tonight’s reading, including Emmy and Tony Award winner and two-time Golden Globe Award nominee Ellen Barkin; Tony Award nominee Jayne Houdyshell; Broadway star Kate Shindle; and two-time Tony Award winner Stephen Spinella, along with Bob Balaban, White Collar star Matt Bomer, Campbell Brown, Anthony Edwards, Morgan Freeman, Cheyenne Jackson, Larry Kramer, Christine Lahti, John Lithgow, Rory O’Malley, Rob Reiner, Yeardley Smith and Bradley Whitford.

Michele Reiner and Oscar-winning producer Bruce Cohen (who worked with Black on Milk, for which Black won his screenwriting Oscar) were instrumental in pulling the cast together. The production is directed by Joe Mantello, best known for his work on Wicked and Angels in America.

Balaban will play U.S. District Chief Judge Vaughn Walker, who found Prop. 8 unconstitutional. Freeman and Lithgow will play David Boies and Theodore B. Olson, the two high-profile attorneys—one a Democrat and the other a Republican—retained by the Foundation for Equal Rights—to argue the case. Bomer and Jackson will play Jeff Zarrillo and Paul Katami, a gay couple who were two of the four plaintiffs challenging Prop. 8. Barkin will play Sandy Stier and Lahti will play Kris Perry – the other plaintiffs – a lesbian couple that have been together for eleven years and are the parents of four boys.

Organizers are hopeful that others throughout the country will take the script -- like theater groups did with Laramie Project and Vagina Monologues -- and use it to stage their own productions.     

“By helping to share the story of the fight for equality, you become a part of it,” Griffin said. “The dark walls of discrimination are crumbling quickly -- this play shows why.”