In particular, what really struck me was the fact that Robbins has made this available only to student productions at this point, with some unusual stipulations -- all profits must be donated to charity, discussion of capital punishment must be incorporated in some part into the school curriculum, and the cast must send Robbins a critique with suggestions for improvement.
This quite obviously has two major benefits. First off, it's a huge and heady rush for high-school students to be able to comment and talk with an Oscar-nominated director, especially on material of this magnitude. However, the biggest benefit, in my mind, is that it encourages students to talk about and explore their feelings concerning capital punishment.
Days before the Texas premiere of Mr. Robbins' new play, Dead Man Walking, members of the high school cast were discussing capital punishment.
"When I started the play, I wasn't necessarily opposed," said Kelly O'Neill, 16. "Now, I just see it as just a form of lynching people."
Anna Rossini, 15, plays Hope. Her character is raped and murdered. Before starting rehearsals, she opposed capital punishment. The show has tipped her thinking – but maybe not in the direction you'd expect.
After playing a victim and after watching the pain of her "family" in the drama, "I'm not as, 'No, no, no' about it as I was before," she said. "Now I'm more for it than against."......
Matt Clark, 18, plays Mitch, brother to the killer in the production. He was among the cast members who spent Monday in Huntsville.
He returned to Dallas with uncomfortable memories of the dark cells and the disinfectant smell of the execution room – and with a newfound ambivalence. He's still against capital punishment. But prison officials had recounted stories of convicted murderers assaulting guards and other prisoners.
"I wouldn't want them hurting anybody else," he said.
Tom Thorpe, 18, plays Matthew Poncelet, the murderer central to the story. (Sean Penn starred in the role in the film.) When Tom started the show, he leaned toward supporting the death penalty, he said last week.
"Now, I'm honestly not sure. Now, I'm questioning it a lot more.
"I hope to decide," he said, "by the end of the play."
Isn't that COOL? THAT'S what I call education -- being exposed to and guided to think through viewpoints that may not be your own.
I went through much the same process in my decision to support capital punishment. As a staunch pro-lifer (I oppose abortion as an option except in the case of rape, incest, or severe risk to the life of the mother), I've often heard the old, "How can you oppose killing babies but support killing others?"
The answer....I don't take ANY form of killing lightly. However, in the case of a baby in utero, you can't get any more innocent than that. The only time I can in good conscience even support it being legal to end that life is when a woman's right to choose whether or not to have sex has been taken from her, or if the baby's life endangers her own.
If someone chooses to end the life of another person, he or she in my mind forfeits their right to theirs. However, that should most often mean imprisonment, even for life, with death being reserved for only that which I consider most heinous -- willfully plotting and carrying out their plan to kill another. I support fully all legal attempts possible, including appeal and clemency, to ensure that even a murderer has their full right to a fair trial and decision under the law.
Even when the moment comes and the most awful power of the state must be wielded.....I think of Martin Luther's prayer for the executioner...."Dear Lord, I kill a man unwillingly, for in Your eyes, I am no better than he."