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Vast Left Wing Conspiracy

An agreement? We couldn't agree on lunch. - Abbie Hoffman

Having just finished a long run at the Odyssey Theatre, I can finally catch my breath. With rehearsals 6 nights a week and performances 5 nights a week, the process that began in August has left me both tired and invigorated for more. It’s not often enough that you get to be in something significant, that makes you feel like you stepped into a moment of time that bears reflection on the present. The Chicago Conspiracy Trial was Richard Nixon’s early salvo in his war on the ‘60's and its anti-war community.

Charging the organizers of the protest that ended in a police riot in front of the ‘68 Democratic Convention, Nixon’s Justice Department began a pattern of seeking to punish essentially thought crime. Nor could they leave this bold strategy to a reasonable judge and prosecution. Rather, the new administration stacked the deck with a crazy judge, tampered jury and corrupt prosecutors who wiretapped and spied on the legal defense team. The defendants reacted by turning the courtroom into a theater where the underlying forces could be laid bare for all to see. The whole world was watching.

The play relied entirely on the transcripts from the case, thereby staying as true as possible, while condensing the issues. Immersing the audience into the proceedings involved protesters outside the theater and marshals inside who randomly frisked audience members. The sense of realism was heightened by the attendance of historical players at a number of performances, most especially defendants Tom Hayden and John Froines. For a massive cast of 37, harmony somehow managed to prevail despite tragedy, injuries and the occasional screw-up. All in all, it was a riot.

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