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'8,' a play about Proposition 8, debuts March 3 in L.A.

The play by Oscar-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black will have a staged reading at the Wilshire Ebell.

November 19, 2011|By David Ng, Los Angeles Times
  • Actor and director Rob Reiner, left, in 2006, and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black on Nov. 12, 2011.
Actor and director Rob Reiner, left, in 2006, and screenwriter Dustin Lance… (Fred Prouser / Reuters and…)

"8," the work-in-progress play by screenwriter Dustin Lance Black that dramatizes the legal battle over Proposition 8, will make its Los Angeles debut March 3 in a staged reading directed by Rob Reiner.

The play will be performed for one night only at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre.

The production will serve as a fundraiser for the American Foundation for Equal Rights. Black and Reiner are founding board members of the advocacy organization, which has fought to overturn the controversial ballot initiative that outlawed same-sex marriage in California.

"8" received a one-night-only reading in September at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre in New York. The benefit event was directed by Joe Mantello and starred Morgan Freeman, John Lithgow, Christine Lahti, Cheyenne Jackson and Ellen Barkin.

Organizers said the New York reading raised more than $1 million. Both the New York and L.A. readings are co-organized by Broadway Impact, an activist group of theater professionals.

The play is based on the 2010 federal court battle Perry vs. Schwarzenegger, which dealt with the legality of Prop. 8. The judge in the case ruled that Prop. 8 was unconstitutional, but the decision has been appealed.

Black, who won an Oscar for his screenplay of "Milk" and also wrote this year's "J. Edgar," said he has revised the play since its New York reading.

"I wanted to hear more from our plaintiffs and to personalize their stories," Black said in a phone interview. "A lot of that comes from testimony on the stand and interviews done outside of the courtroom."

Black said he took out about 10 minutes of legal arguments "that I felt was repetitive … and replaced that with more details about our plaintiffs and their lives," including their children.

The playwright said one of the challenges of writing "8" was remaining faithful to what was said in court while keeping the play at a manageable length. "It loses potency if you change their words," he said.

No cast has been announced for L.A. but Black said some of the New York cast will return. He said he will continue working on "8" and that he hopes it will one day have full productions in New York and L.A.

Reiner said that his involvement with the play stems from his political involvement in the Prop. 8 debate. "It feels like this is the last big piece of the civil rights puzzle," he said in a phone interview. "As heterosexuals, it's hard to look someone in the eye and say we deserve more than you do."

The director played the role of David Blankenhorn, the founder of the Institute for American Values, in the New York reading and may reprise the role again in L.A., "but not if I find a better actor for the part."

AFER and Broadway Impact are also licensing "8" for performances in colleges and community theaters around the country.

david.ng@latimes.com

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