Theater: "Execution of Justice"

September 26, 2011

Execution of Justice was inspired by the murder of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and gay activist Harvey Milk. The justice system is put on trial in the court of theater.

Written by Emily Mann

Directed by Trevor Biship

If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door. – Harvey Milk

On Monday, November 27th, 1978, former Supervisor of San Francisco’s District 8 Dan White entered Mayor George Moscone’s office and shot the mayor four times. He then reloaded, entered the supervisor’s office, and shot Supervisor Harvey Milk five times. Although it initially appeared to be an open and shut case of first degree murder, Dan White was found guilty of only voluntary manslaughter, a verdict that carried a maximum sentence of seven years and eight months. San Francisco, an already polarized city, erupted in what came to be known as the “White Night Riots.” Thousands of people, led by the city’s gay community, demonstrated at City Hall. They burned police cars and caused thousands of dollars in damages to the building. Later that evening, the police retaliated by storming a gay bar and assaulting citizens in San Francisco’s Castro district. Many, both police and civilians, were injured.

Although now known for its liberal politics and large gay community, San Francisco in the mid-1970s was in the midst of a culture clash between the conservative “old guard” and the city’s expanding liberal population. The election of George Moscone, a progressive politician, followed by Harvey Milk, the first openly gay city Supervisor, unsettled the conservative status quo. Dan White, a former police officer and fireman, was a poster child for the traditionalist constituency. The assassinations were largely viewed by the population as politically motivated, a culmination of the friction between Moscone/Milk and White over their ideologies. Whether or not White’s motivation was political at all remains in question. That said, however, his decision to commit double homicide in 1978, and the subsequent leniency of his conviction, unleashed a series of events that led to the increased political presence of the previously censored community that Harvey Milk represented. Their outrage was funneled into a social movement that continues to reverberate today.

Using a style known as “theater of testimony,” playwright Emily Mann examines the trial of Dan White using only words from “trial transcript, interview, reportage, the street.” The audience becomes jury as the play presents the facts of the trial as they were expressed in the actual courtroom. A chorus of uncalled witnesses counterpoints the trial records, illuminating the true execution of justice that occurred.


For further information, please call 562.684.4411 or visit the event’s webpage.

This is part of the B-Word Project.