Courtroom dramas can be tricky things to accomplish on stage. In order to keep the audience’s interest, the case concerned must be serious enough, the defendant’s guilt or innocence must be hard to determine – and yet, if we do not feel sympathy for them despite their possible guilt, how are we as an audience ever going to engage with their plight?
Anatomy of a Murder, Elihu Winer’s play based on Robert Traver’s 1958 novel, piques the interest by starting from the premise that there is no doubt that the defendant, army Lieutenant Frederic Manion (George McFadyen) killed Barney Quill, the proprietor of the local inn.But Quill, we are told, had raped Manion’s wife that night. Immediately, our loyalties and a sense of natural justice start muddying the waters – and further murkiness is added as Manion and his fresh-faced lawyer Paul Biegler (Benedict Hastings) work out that Manion’s only defence against a charge of murder will be a plea of insanity.
> Having just been told, at 3 a.m., that his partner of three decades might die within hours, Mike Brittenback was told something else: Before rushing to Bill’s side, he needed to collect and bring with him documents proving his medical power of attorney. This indignity, unheard-of in the world of heterosexual marriage, is a commonplace of American gay life. …
> … What happened in that hospital in Philadelphia for those six weeks was not just Mike and Bill’s business, a fact that is self-evident to any reasonable human being who hears the story. “Mike was making a medical decision at least once a day that would have serious consequences,” Bill told me. Who but a life partner would or could have done that? Who but a life partner will drop everything to provide constant care? Bill’s mother told me that if not for Mike, her son would have died. Faced with this reality, what kind of person, morally, simply turns away and offers silence?