Dead Man Walking
by Tri-School Theatre

Servite High, Rosary High, and Cornelia Connelly School join together to form Anaheim’s Tri-School Theatre program. And in November they got together for one of the most powerful plays available to schools. Tim Robbins had his film Dead Man Walking turned into a play made available through The Dead Man Walking School Theatre Project, and Tri-School gave the show its Orange County premiere.

Hillary Pearson directed this piece, and her students clearly took the show to heart. The story is based on the book by Sister Helen Prejean, detailing her experience as a spiritual counselor for death row inmates. In Tim Robbins’ adaptation, Sister Helen Prejean agrees to help death row inmate Matthew Poncelet who has been convicted in the murder of an eighteen-year-old couple, both of them brutally beaten and the young woman raped before being shot with a shotgun. Helen finds herself treading a painful path – attempting to help an apparently remorseless killer while the families of the victims feel that she is more concerned about the murderer than she is about the young people who were murdered. The dynamic makes for several emotionally powerful scenes that allow us to fairly consider both sides of the capital punishment debate, challenging our emotions and our minds.

Amy Northrop is Sister Helen Prejean, displaying a soothing calmness as she tries to follow the path she believes God wants her to follow based on caring for her neighbor, hoping for their redemption no matter their past. But Amy also captures her character’s inner anguish as the parents of the victims turn on her, and as the voices of the victims haunt her. It all builds to the climactic moment when she makes one last, forceful effort to get Matt to finally deal with what happened that night.

Sean Faley is the other half of that riveting scene as Matthew Poncelet, the man on death row. Sean gives a strong performance as the self-confident, prideful, bigoted man who slowly, reluctantly gains more self-awareness through his relationship with Sister Helen. The character he creates in the beginning makes his growing self-awareness all the more compelling as he comes to accept responsibility, and all the more tragic as his time runs out. They nail the human drama with the realistic awkwardness of his last meeting with his family, and his parting with his mother that ends with her collapsing and his voice cracking as he’s led away asking, “Is my mom okay?”

A couple of the other standouts include Christine Doidge, the mother of the female victim Hope (Amanda Steinfeld), describing the last words she shared with her daughter. And Matt’s mother, played by Sumayah Ferris, does very well as she talks to the parole board, wondering what she did wrong. As a whole, the cast does a great job in their various roles, and the ensemble shines in such scenes as the meeting of a victim’s support group and in the chilling conclusion.

The production is enhanced throughout by subtle lighting effects that help establish the mood of the scenes and of Sister Helen’s internal struggle. Slides are used unobtrusively, featuring relevant photos, articles, and quotes. And the theatre company turned their lobby into a fascinating educational experience set up like a museum with exhibits regarding execution methods, statistics, the history of the death penalty, sound recordings and quotes taken from the last moments of executed people.

Performs November 13 - 16, 2008.

Rob Hopper
National Youth Theatre

~ Cast ~

Sister Helen Prejean: Amy Northrop
Sister Marie August Neal: Lauren Holcombe
Herbie: Jared Sykes
Luis Montoya: Thomas Ramos
Matt Poncelet: Sean Faley
Guard #1: Kevin Rosetti
Chaplain Farley: Chris DiTomaso
Guard #2: Carlos Mitsuo Ruiz
Guard #3: Paul McGill
Guard #4: Michael Swartz
Sister Colleen: Leean Gill
Reporter #1: Francesca Carpello
Reporter #2: Amanda Brown
Reporter #3: Claire Thompson
Radio Announcer: Miranda Carrasco Burge
Purvis Slade: Paul McGill
Hilton Barber: Brandon Berg
Lucille Poncelet: Sumayah Ferris
Guy Gilardi: Matthew Galligan
Clyde Percy: Maximiliano Lizarraga III
Marybeth Percy: Christine Doidge
Earl Delacroix: Joey Hennings
Mrs. Delacroix: Sarah Murray
Walter Delacroix: John Caton
Hope Percy: Amanda Steinfeld
Judge Mirabeau: Kyle Alcaino
Sister Helen's Mother: Erin Miller
Emily Percy: Laura Marcin
Woman #1: Karissa Masciel
Man #1: Blake Cross
Woman #2: Holland Enke
Man #2: David Kane
Woman #3: Colleen Costello
Man #3: Anthony Lee
Trapp: Michael Swartz
Sergeant Beliveau: Karl Abad
Nurse: Christine Stevens
Doctor: Jessie Gaston
Guard #5: Thomas Ramos
Warden Hartman: Carlos Zavala
Governor Fredericks: Tucker Hansen
Mitch Poncelet: John Wolfe
Troy Poncelet: Brian Bornhop
Jim Poncelet: Mykel Jeffrey
Interviewer: Francesca Carpello
Kyle Alcaino
Chelsea Alcala
Brian Bornhop
Alexandra Blatchford
Amanda Brown
Francesca Carpello
Miranda Carrasco Burge
Jacqueline Cisneros
Colleen Costello
Blake Cross
Ellena Dien
Holland Enke
Diana Escalante
Kathleen Fenstermaker
Jessie Gaston
Lauren Holcombe
Mykel Jeffrey
David Kane
Patricia Kendrick
Anthony Lee
Molly Lehman
Karissa Masciel
Andrea Rodriguez
Kevin Rosetti
Carlos Mitsuo Ruiz
Megan Shanholtzer
Claire Thompson
Anissa Velazquez
Marisa Warner
John Wolfe

Director: Hillary Pearson
Technical Director: Scott Kahler
Stage Manager: Maya Karon


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