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Defamation Puts Audience Members Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Alexis Harvey

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Photo submitted form Defamation website. Ms. Allen interogates Regina wade as Arthur Golden looks on.

Students are faced with a difficult decision to make in “Defamation.”
Unlike your typical stage play, “Defamation” integrates the audience right into the action of the play. Set in a court room there is a judge, plaintiff and defendant. The twist is that the audience plays the jury.
The case is Wade v. Golden. Regina Wade, played by Stacy Doublin is suing Arthur Golden, played by Richard Shavzin for defamation. Golden accuses Wade of stealing his watch and tells one of her clients it wouldn’t be a good idea to use Wade’s services anymore. This deals a fatal financial blow for Wade and she believes that this was the final nail in the coffin for her business which closes soon after. Wade says that if it weren’t for Golden’s accusations she would still have her business.
This play seems like something you’d see on television. People are shouting and crying, and lawyers are making snide remarks about each other.
“I would say roughly 85% of this play would never be allowed to happen,” said Shavzin who, in addition to acting in the Defamation, is also the associate producer and director of the show.
Defamation is not only about the entertainment, it is a play created to provoke thought about the topics of race, gender and class. Wade is a black woman from the south side of Chicago, and Golden is a wealthy Jewish man from a prominent suburb. A large part of the play involves questioning the prejudices of Golden. At one point Wade all but calls him a racist.
“I think that it was very easy for us to get lost in the emotion of the play, but none of those things [are] the actual reason why we’re here,” said one play-goer.
Once the proceedings were finished the Judge, played by Malcolm Rothman, charged the audience for determining a verdict. At the beginning there were 10 that voted in favor of Golden, 22 for Wade and 55 undecided.
“I voted undecided because there’s no way of knowing whether she did or did not steal the watch, and that’s what I think this case is relying on,” said Virginia Choe, senior psychology and linguistics major.
Others felt that it was overwhelmingly obvious that Wade was in the right.
“The reason I decided to go with the defendant was because of the fact that there was no real proof that what he said actually affected her business,” said Elexis Nelson, senior linguistics major. “It’s really unfair to assume that his words directly affected her business.”
Once the discussion was over the audience voted again. The people that voted for Wade significantly outnumbered those that voted in favor of Golden; the outcome was so evident that an official count wasn’t even taken.
After the verdict was reached and the play ended there was an open dialogue session that allowed members of the audience and cast to share what they experienced during the show.
“[My daughter and I] realized what was happening was we were getting caught up in the hype and not looking at it and not examining it,” said Aimi Moss, director of the Student Success Center, “which made me think a little bit more about this idea of an examined life and how important it is for us to live examined lives where we examine what happens to us and what we see and think about them deeply so that we can learn and grow from those.”
This was Defamation’s 200th performance. Within the play’s run 162 schools sided with Wade and 38 sided with Golden. The question of how different demographics may have affected these results came up. According to the facilitator Gina Taliaferro, who played Lorraine Jordan in the show, 17 of 200 shows were performed in Catholic high schools. Each of those audience juries sided with Golden. When the play was performed in front of an audience made up of large numbers of Jewish people, Golden lost every time.
For more information on Defamation, see their website at www.defamationtheplay.com.
Alexis Harvey may be reached at [email protected]

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Defamation Puts Audience Members Between a Rock and a Hard Place