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Three-ring 'Trial Of The Chicago 8' On Hbo

May 16, 1987|DAN SULLIVAN | Times Theater Critic

Young people who would like to know the temper of the times back in the 1960s should catch HBO's "Conspiracy: The Trial of the Chicago 8," airing tonight at 10.

As opposed to the decorum of the current Iranscam hearings--what theater! Here's Abbie Hoffman (Michael Lembeck) blowing kisses to the court. Here's Jerry Rubin (Barry Miller) jumping on a table. Here's Bobby Seale (Carl Lumbly) literally bound and gagged--and still making himself heard.

Above all, here's Judge Julius Hoffman (David Opatoshu) struggling to keep his cool with these crazies, but very quickly losing control of himself and the judicial process. He won the battle, but he lost the war.

Or did he? "Conspiracy"--based on the Odyssey Theatre's 1979 "Chicago Conspiracy Trial"--presents Rubin and company as sincere, delightfully irreverent young Americans who managed to outfox Judge Hoffman and his stone-faced prudes by turning the trial into a shambles.

But 20 years later, you wonder if the protest movement didn't lose much of its dignity, and effectiveness, in these monkeyshines. Certainly the Establishment didn't suffer any permanent damage, as witness the Reagan years.

One of the most interesting features of the TV production--possible only on TV--is the chance to hear from Rubin, Seale, Abbie Hoffman, Tom Hayden, et al., as they are today--some of them still committed to the revolution, some not.

Intercut news footage also reminds us that the Chicago riots were no laughing matter--those police "batons" drew real blood, not stage blood. There's food for thought, for memory and for argument in this docudrama.

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