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Play Review: Trial of the Catonsville Nine

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The Trial of the Catonsville Nine. Photo credit Kim Zsebe, courtesy The Actor's Gang.

Many of us would like to count ourselves as 'politically active'. We are an intelligent country, made up of many of the same demographics as seen in other Western countries. We have the students, the high prices, the motivations, and the anger. We just don't have the riots. Excluding recent racial developments in Oakland and the occasional big sports victory, our 'political activism' may well better be titled 'political pacification'. This isn't Spain, or France, and it sure as hell isn't Greece, where protests and work stoppages are routine. How sad is it that, as a people, we'll flip cop cars for Super Bowls but not suicide missions in Iraq. Not for deception in D.C. President Obama has brought a lot of his hope to America, but it took eight years, and there are many broken social stairs to reclimb before we reach the heights we once enjoyed. But this is not a promotion of rioting. Far from it.

There have been times when things were different; when the attitudes of the people raged against the climate of the times like competing clouds of thought, until orations of thunder and bolts of defiance struck the land. The Battle in Seattle is one. The Los Angeles riots, while terrible and costly, are another. And then there is May 17th, 1968, when a perfect storm of moral certainty, governmental injustice, and public sentiment converged on Catonsville, Maryland.

But this is not a history lesson, either. Much can be found regarding the actions of that day, when nine Catholic individuals - including two priests - peacefully removed 378 draft files from a local draft board, took them to the parking lot, and burned them with homemade napalm, to ensure that at least a handful of young men would be freed from the certain obligations of death that was the Selective Service for Vietnam. Instead, this is a critical look at the play, The Trial of the Catonsville Nine - performed at the Actors' Gang Theatre in Culver City -, which takes a moving, free verse look at the courtroom proceedings that followed the incident of civil disobedience. As a play, The Trial of the Catonsville Nine is very engrossing, but as a blueprint for our failures it is deeply impactful.