June 10, 2005
In 'Speak Truth,' the focus is on the words, not the actors
Ariel Dorfman's play will receive its Los Angeles premiere in a one-night performance
Saturday at All Saints Church in Pasadena.
By Diane Haithman, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
When a group of well-known Hollywood actors comes together to speak the real-life words of human
rights activists from around the world, you can bet the performance will be highly charged. But actress Alfre Woodard says
the words would be just as powerful if they were read aloud by your mail carrier or maybe the woman next door.
isn't a piece that is acted or emoted; it is so powerful that you just read it, just say it," she says. "The words are so
simple, so direct, so truthful and so brave that it does all the work."
Woodard is talking about "Speak Truth to Power: Voices Beyond the Dark," a play by Ariel Dorfman
that will receive its Los Angeles premiere in a one-night performance Saturday at All Saints Church in Pasadena. She is among
the actors invited to participate by "West Wing" star Bradley Whitford, who performs in and directs the sold-out show, a fundraiser
for the Los Angeles-based Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace and the Speak Truth to Power, a division of
the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial.
Whitford has also tapped "West Wing" players Martin Sheen, Allison Janney, Melissa
Fitzgerald, John Spencer and the show's creator, Aaron Sorkin, as well as Rocky Carroll, Hector Elizondo, America Ferrera
and Whitford's wife, Jane Kaczmarek, to perform.
Less than a week before the performance, about half the cast gathered
for rehearsal, which consisted of a read-through. But Whitford said that was enough. "My directorial take on it, if there
is one to be had, is to keep it as simple as possible, so that the voices are heard and the focus is really on the human rights
heroes and not on an overly ornate production," he says.
"There is this mystery: Why do some people stand up to this
stuff; why do some people put their lives in danger when so many others don't? It is sort of the mystery of this source of
courage not to accept the unacceptable."
Based on the book "Speak Truth to Power: Human Rights Defenders Who Are Changing
Our World," with text by Kerry Kennedy and photos by Eddie Adams, Dorfman's play borrows from Kennedy's interviews with dozens
of human rights leaders, including Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic and Baltasar Garzon of Spain, as well as Nobel Prize
winners the Dalai Lama and Elie Wiesel. All Saints Church also has mounted an exhibition of Adams' photos from the book.
recalls being most impressed by the optimismof her interview subjects, anattitude she sees reflected in many of the quotes
in the script."I wasn't looking for victims, I was looking for heroes," she says. "There is one quote fromArchbishop Desmond
Tutu, who said: 'We have a God who doesn't say, Ah, got you! No. God says get up, God dusts us off and says try again.' Another
who comesto mind is Elie Wiesel, who survived the holocaust — he says: 'My hope for the future is that your children
don't have my past.' These two capture the spirit of all the human rights leaders."
First performed at the John F.
Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., in 2000, the staged reading was also presented to celebrate Martin
Luther King weekend this year in Atlanta at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King served as co-pastor. Sheen was in that
cast and lent his script to Whitford, who became hooked on the idea of a West Coast reading.
Woodard was part of the
Kennedy Center production as well as the Atlanta cast but says that even without that connection, Whitford might have called
on her to participate. "We all know who each other are, those who feel responsibility with our privilege," she says.
a post-rehearsal conversation at the church, Whitford and Sheen agreed that though high-profile actors are often attacked
for speaking out on social and political causes, they feel the same sense of responsibility that Woodard does.
no interest in politics, I am not a politician," Sheen says. "I have an interest in the morals of my time, the command of
conscience is what moves me to become involved."
Sheen recalls that during the Atlanta performance, the eyes of the
audience were more often focused on the onstage photo of the human rights leader than on the actor reading the part.
think the point of this piece," he says, "is to raise your voice at injustice. It is incumbent on you. You only have one life
— that's all you get."