The wrong man is singing this song, man– “croons Duran (Ross Golan) our death row troubadour at the opening of “The Wrong Man” now blistering the stage at the Skylight Theatre.

Golan is a noir balladeer who has scraped his tunes from America’s bleak back alleys. He delivers a soul scorched songfest woven from 14 pieces sung as a hard edged scat. The story he tells is how a one night stand with a Reno stripper triggered a skein succession of events culminating with him wrongly convicted of two murders and facing execution at the state’s hands.

“Never broke a law, man; the law broke a straw man–“

Golan’s composition, a fusion of blues, rap and sung poetry, harkens to the likes of Leonard Cohen, Vladimir Vysotsky and Đorđe Balašević, social poets who raised their protests of injustice in song, like acoustic activists Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie.

Sharing the stage with Golan is Jennifer Brasuell. She is a haunting, yet taunting presence as Mariana, whose longing to bring life into this world brings her death.

Director-choreographer Lee Martino maneuvers her actors over the stage with a skilled subtlety that imbues them with a sense of bodies plummeting into an abyss.

Jared A. Sayeg’s light design, in harmony with Darren Mora’s sound scheme, along with graphic designer Llance Bower and videographer Michael Alan Hoy have orchestrated one of the most effective employments of multimedia on stage that I’ve seen in years, achieving a coherent integration between the live actors and the cauldron of seething images presented on five screens that blend across the stage in Jeff McLaughlin’s well conceived set.

Projected as either validation or counterpoint, the images succeed in confirming the grittiness of a Reno back alley or the tumbling rapture of raw sexuality; the turmoil of flight to the madness bred of confinement. Visuals of smoke bleeding through chain link melded to a corridor shrouded in shadows, the last path Golan’s character will walk, brings a fittingly Kafkaesque touch to a system that demands sacrifices for substantiation of its supremacy.

The play is a poem of rage at the darkness that enfolds Golan in betrayal, deception, brutality, repression and ultimately death at the hands of a system that prides itself on expediency rather than justice. However, there is redemption for Golan’s character in the fury he unleashes against the forces which have wrongly judged him, whose righteousness is manifested in a voice that never falters.

The Wrong Man” is a superbly crafted and strikingly staged work. But more importantly, with the recent announcement to place the “Death Penalty Reform and Saving Act of 2014” on the ballot come the next elections, “The Wrong Man” is also a vitally timely work.

Supported by former Governors George Deukmejian, Pete Wilson and Gray Davis, the initiative springs from the same political alliance that narrowly defeated the 2012 Proposition 34 which sought to abolish the death penalty in California.

The legislation seeks to curb the appeals process and accelerate the application of the sentences imposed on the 700 inmates currently held on Death Row.

That there should be a concentrated attempt at placing such an initiative on the ballot can only be described as mind boggling when one recognizes that 2013 saw a record number of men on death row nationwide exonerated. 87 men, primarily as a result of advances in DNA testing procedures, were proven to have been wrongly convicted. California accounted for 6 of those 87 cases.

32 states still employ capital punishment.

In the last two decades the courts have overturned verdicts saving more than 1,500 innocent men from wrongful execution.

The number of innocent men not saved is unknown.

The Wrong Man” gives voice against an imperfect system applied with a toxic mixture of indifference, mismanagement and prejudice. We all should add our voices to the chorus.

 

The Wrong Man

Skylight Theatre
1816½ N. Vermont Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90027
(213) 761-7061

Performances: Feb. 8 – March 16
Friday & Saturday: 8 p.m.
Sunday: 7 p.m.