‘Dead Man’ tells tales
Carl J. Bachus | Collegio Reporter
Playing on the sordid political history of the criminal death penalty, Pitt State’s spring production of “Dead Man Walking,” based on the autobiography by Sister Helen Prejean, is amazing. The play is directed by graduate student Kristy Magee and based on a script by Tim Robbins.
The production stars freshman Taylor Patterson as Sister Prejean, a nun chosen to correspond with death row inmate Matthew Poncelet (played by junior Jacob Hacker). Tasked with preventing his execution and saving his soul, Prejean finds herself repulsed by Poncelet’s personality. Poncelet pleads with Prejean to file an appeal on his behalf, claiming total innocence of the crimes he has been convicted of. During the process, Prejean finds herself torn between her belief system and the families of Poncelet’s victims. Caught between a rock and a hard place, she must choose between her conscience and her faith.
Magee put together a talented group of students in making “Dead Man Walking.” Doug Bennett’s staging is very practical and claustrophobic, giving the audience a sense of Poncelet’s confinement. Magee should also be commended for the staging of Prejean’s visions and flashbacks. The production is accented by Deidre Galloway’s slideshow presentations, highlighting the play’s grisly murders and facts about the history of the death penalty in the United States.
Patterson has been giving superb performances all year and her turn as Prejean is no exception. She is a revelation as Prejean, full of gravitas and conviction, effectively illustrating the sister’s struggle with her faith and her personal sense of morality. Hacker delivers as Poncelet, capturing the arrogance of a shameless criminal and the fear of a man facing death. The supporting cast gave admirable performances, most notably senior Austin Cutwright in the dual role of Chaplain Fareley and Clyde Percy, father of the girl Poncelet was convicted of murdering. Cutright sets an angry fire behind the grieving father’s vengeful bloodlust.
A triumph of the collegiate stage, “Dead Man Walking” gives an interesting look at the death penalty from the point of view of a woman who has a bigger heart than the rest of her world would like her to have. Magee’s nuanced direction, paired with a capable cast led by three powerhouse performances, resulted in a fantastic theater-going experience that poses an interesting question: Is it appropriate to punish those who kill, by killing them?