Stage & Dance

Gay-marriage controversy takes to the stage in Lexington

Fayette Circuit Judge Ernesto Scorsone, back right, watched a rehearsal of 8, the play he helped bring to Lexington. It's about the controversy over same-sex marriage in California.
Fayette Circuit Judge Ernesto Scorsone, back right, watched a rehearsal of 8, the play he helped bring to Lexington. It's about the controversy over same-sex marriage in California. Lexington Herald-Leader

The courtroom drama about California's controversial Proposition 8 will play out on the stage of The Kentucky Theatre on Tuesday evening, thanks to a diverse couple of area groups thinking alike.

As a circuit judge, former state senator and gay man, Ernesto Scorsone was naturally interested in 8, a play by Dustin Lance Black.

It relies largely on court transcripts and journalistic accounts of Perry vs. Schwarzenegger, the case that overturned Proposition 8. That was the ballot initiative and state constitutional amendment that struck down the California Supreme Court's ruling that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry. The issue has remained controversial since then, and the case is being considered by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The play made national headlines earlier this year with a highly celebrated performance in Los Angeles starring George Clooney and Brad Pitt and a Broadway production featuring Morgan Freeman and John Lithgow.

Scorsone thought it would be a great idea to present 8 through JustFundKY, an organization he co-founded to "eradicate discrimination against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community," according to the group's Web site, He contacted Black's representatives, who have expressed a desire to have the show performed around the country.

"They said that sounded great but suggested we get a professional theater company involved," Scorsone said.

That's when he reached out to Kentucky Conservatory Theatre, the organization that presents the SummerFest series of plays at the Arboretum in July and recently branched out into presenting theater year-round. SummerFest managing director Wesley Nelson said the theater had looked at presenting 8 this year but decided against it because it would be too much of a financial strain on the company with other projects the theater was taking on this fall, including a November production of Spring Awakening.

Then he got a phone call from Scorsone asking about 8.

"With them producing it financially, we could produce it artistically for them," Nelson said.

So Tuesday night, the show will take The Kentucky stage with a cast combining well-known area actors such as Joe Gatton and Leslie Beatty and well-known Lexington ians such as former mayors Pam Miller and Foster Pettit, state Sen. Kathy Stein, Fayette County Attorney Larry Roberts, Lexington PVA David O'Neill, and Thomas & King owner and former vice mayor Mike Scanlon,

"That's been a whole lot of fun, and it helps give credence to the issue," said Kentucky Conservatory Theatre artistic director Joe Ferrell, who is directing the production. He added, "Although we tried, we couldn't get George Clooney."

"Ernesto Scorsone asked me to do it and I said sure," Roberts said. "I always wanted to know the facts of the case, and you really learned them in the script. This is a big, huge issue that is still being litigated."

While he hasn't acted since he was in school, Roberts said, "I like being in the courtroom. That's kind of like a stage."

The Rev. Marsha Charles, a JustFund board member and pastor at Bluegrass United Church of Christ, said city leaders' participation "was affirming to me because social change happens when people who are not part of the group being discriminated against stand up and fight for the cause."

The last time same-sex marriage was on the ballot in Kentucky was 2004, when a constitutional amendment to ban it was approved by 75 percent of voters. Since then, numerous changes have taken place nationally and locally, including President Barack Obama stating his support for same-sex marriage and Lexington electing its first openly gay mayor, Jim Gray.

While they don't expect overnight change, organizers of the 8 production say they hope the play might get conversations started. While the play advocates same-sex marriage, Ferrell and others say it presents both sides of the argument.

Charles says, "I'd like to see people that are not sure where they stand or think they stand against it and just take the morals out of the issue and look at the legal aspects of it."

In California, Kentucky and all over the country, same-sex marriage probably will be an ongoing courtroom drama.