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That's essentially what happened Saturday night, when a large company of A-list actors presented 8, a new play by Milk screenwriter Dustin Lance Black. The drama is based directly on transcripts of the Proposition 8 trial in California, which determined whether or not gay marriage could be legally recognized in California. The sold-out, one-night-only reading was streamed live on the Internet, and is now available for free below. (The 90-minute performance is preceded by a half hour of news clips; skip to 29:45 to go straight to the play. It's long but worth it!)
Presented at Los Angeles' Wilshire Ebell Theatre and directed by Rob Reiner, the play centers around the historic closing arguments that took place in June 2010. George Clooney and Martin Sheen play the anti-Prop 8 lawyers David Boles and Ted Olsen, who successfully convinced Judge Walker (played by Brad Pitt) that forbidding gay marriage was unconstitutional. On the opposite side, Kevin Bacon portrays the defense attorney representing the state of California. The plaintiffs, two gay couples who challenged the state out of a desire for their families to have equal rights, are played emotionally by Jamie Lee Curtis and Christine Lahti and Matthew Morrison and Matt Bomer, respectively. Other witnesses were portrayed by John C. Reilly, George Takei, Glee's Chris Colfer and Modern Family's Jesse Tyler Ferguson, to name just a few. Glee fans are in for an especially big treat with this video: In addition to Morrison and Colfer, Jane Lynch has a hilarious supporting role as anti-gay marriage activist Maggie Gallagher.
Dustin Lance Black wrote 8 in order to make details of the trial available to the public, since the defense has worked strenuously to keep the existing videotapes private. The play vividly demonstrates how the case for Prop 8 fell apart over the course of the trial, to the point where the defense actually lost most of their witnesses, who had strong feelings against gay marriage but could provide no facts under oath to justify banning it. For many of the people onstage, the Prop 8 trial also has personal significance: Several of the actors are gay, a few (including Lynch and Bomer) are in long-term committed partnerships, and almost all of them have been activists for marriage equality. That includes the two biggest stars up there, Clooney and Pitt.
"Brad has also joked that he's not getting married until I can legally marry my partner," Clooney recently told The Advocate. "He's been funny about it, because he knows that the best and most effective way to end marriage inequality is to point out the ridiculousness of it. Gay marriage doesn't affect anyone else or change the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman."
After extended legal proceedings, Proposition 8 was officially struck down in February 2012. Though gay marriage is now legal in California (and an increasing number of other states), the case is almost certainly headed to the U.S. Supreme Court. After watching 8, we definitely think Martin Sheen and George Clooney should join the legal team!