I brought Daniel Berrigan to the Whitman campus twice, once in the mid-1970s and again in the early 1980s. I had already brought him to Willamette University in 1975. In each case, I watched him direct a dramatic reading of The Trial of the Catonsville Nine. He would spend a couple of hours before the reading telling each actor about the person
he or she was playing. He never wanted the play to be about the Catonsville Two—him and his brother, Philip, both of whom had become nationally known during the 1960s and 70s. He always wanted the other seven to have equal billing, particularly since most people had never heard of them. These dramatic readings were effective as such but not one of them even hinted at the latent possibility of the power of Jessica Cerullo’s production (Harper Joy Theatre, March 1-4).
Here are three reasons why Daniel Berrigan would have loved Jessica’s production.
1. Jessica’s production gives equal billing to the forgotten Catonsville Seven. In the first act, among other strategies, slides depict images of the seven at the time of the trial. In the second act, all nine characters speak from the audience and from behind the audience so that we hear one collective voice of protest that doesn’t prioritize any single voice.
2. Jessica’s production brings the play to life in so many ways: the music, the songs, the slides, the movement on the stage and off the stage, the use of the entire theatre. There is never a dull moment during this play that lacks character development and often falls flat on its face.
3. Above all, Dan would have loved the play because at the same time that the production captures the mood of the times 50 years ago when the action of the play took place, it refuses to allow us to watch it solely as a phenomenon unraveling in the past. From the very first song, “We Are Here,” we are directly confronted with similar issues (poverty, racism, American imperialism) present in our contemporary world and forced to ask ourselves why we are not collectively protesting these same conditions in our world as the persons on stage are doing in theirs. I only wish that Dan would have been next to me in the theatre. He would have been as exhilarated and elated as I was. I thank Jessica, the actors, the musicians, the whole production team for bringing Daniel Berrigan and the Catonsville Nine back to Walla Walla.