Two years ago, gay activist and master polemicist Larry Kramer gave an important speech in New York City in which he pleaded for younger generations of gays and lesbians not to forget their past: “You are here as a gay person because of certain events and certain people who lived and suffered and died before you. You must learn about them and not continually deny their existence and importance in our history, the history of gay people in America.” There can be little doubt then that About Face Theatre, director Gary Griffin and a veritable who’s who of Chicago’s finest actors—Ora Jones, John Judd, Larry Neumann, Jr. and Steve Key to name just a few—are doing more than just entertaining theatergoers with their theatrically vibrant production of playwright Emily Mann’s docudrama “Execution of Justice,” chronicling the 1978 assassinations of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and the first openly gay politician elected to high office, City Supervisor Harvey Milk; they are presenting an important part of American gay history. It’s interesting to note that “Execution of Justice” began life in 1985 at the Actors Theatre of Louisville thanks to an adventurous group of dramaturgs and playwrights willing to experiment with form and structure. Well ahead of their time and before anyone was doing verbatim theater, which now proliferates on the stage as reality television does on the smaller screen, these writers found a way to craft static words into potent performance material using the cinematic techniques of cross-cutting, flashback and musical underscoring. With little more than a bare stage, some ingenious lighting effects, two musicians, simple instrumentation and some television monitors, Griffin’s production convincingly establishes the San Francisco of the late 1970s and allows the actors to do the rest: soar with their verbal arias and infuse the piece with real emotion. It is not to be missed. (Fabrizio O. Almeida)
“Execution of Justice” plays at Victory Gardens Greenhouse Theatre, 2257 North Lincoln, (773)871-3000, through February 18.