Execution of Justice

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Not to be confused with the novel The Execution of Justice.

Execution of Justice is an ensemble play by Emily Mann chronicling the case of Dan White,[1] who assassinated San Francisco mayor George Moscone and openly gay city supervisor Harvey Milk in November 1978. The play was originally commissioned by the Eureka Theater Company and had an early production by Arena Stage in their 1984/1985 season.[2]

It opened on Broadway on March 13, 1986 with John Spencer playing Dan White and a cast that included Wesley Snipes, Stanley Tucci, Mary McDonnell, and Earle Hyman. The set was designed by Ming Cho Lee, costumes by Jennifer von Mayrhauser, lighting by Pat Collins.[3][4]

In 1999, the play was adapted for television and was awarded the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) Media Award for Outstanding TV Movie in 2000.[5] It is also the winner of the HBO New Plays USA award, the Helen Hayes Award, the Bay Area Critics Circle Award, and it was nominated for a Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Award.

In the play, the trial itself is on trial in the court of theater and is found guilty of a miscarriage of justice, parallelling the actual case which resulted in White being convicted of a lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter, rather than two counts of first-degree murder, and sentenced to less than eight years. The play references the urban legend[6][7] that White's defense strategy was primarily the so-called "Twinkie defense" — painting his junk food consumption as a significant or even in some versions the sole cause of his actions.

The highly emotional play combines live stage action, videos, taped voices and music including a video camera on stage projecting its image onto large screens throughout the performance which uses the drag nun Sister Boom Boom, an AIDS activist, (played in the original production by Wesley Snipes) as a voice of consciousness representing human rights for all marginalized groups, not just gays.

Act I is titled: Murder This act is beginning the trial of Daniel James White, who has assassinated Harvey Milk, the Supervisor of the City and County of San Francisco, California, and George R. Moscone, the Mayor of the City and County of San Francisco, California. The Prosecution and Defense choose a jury, and then present the facts of what has occurred, such as White resigning from his position as the Supervisor of District 8 of San Francisco, and the discussion of his intent to possibly withdraw that resignation. They discuss White's background, where he grew up in San Francisco, served in Vietnam, and was a police officer and fireman in San Francisco. They then discuss the wounds of the victims, and question the witnesses to the shooting of Milk and Moscone. White explains his side of the story, and the end of the act is Dan White, his wife Mary Ann, and the Jurors sobbing. Court then takes a recess.

Act II is titled: In Defense of Murder This begins with the Prosecution questioning Falzon and his relationship to Dan White. Then the Defense brings in Freitas, Sherrant, and Frediani, to discuss his character and their relationships with him in the past. Then there is a psychiatric defense, and then questioning of his wife, Mary Ann, and her perspective. After all final statements and deliberation of the jury, the court announces Mr. White is sentenced to seven years and eight months, the maximum sentence for two counts of voluntary manslaughter. The last lines of the play are Dan White Saying: "I was always just a lonely vote on the board. I was just trying to do a good job for the city"

The set is described as a bare stage with a white screen overhead. Time: 1978 to the Present. Place: San Francisco. The Words Come From: Trial Transcripts, Reportage and Interviews.

List of Characters[edit]

(The Play can be performed with as few as 18 Actors)

Dan White (man on trial for murder of George R. Moscone and Harvey Milk), Mary Ann White (wife of Dan White), Cop, Sister Boom Boom (Nun in Drag),

Chorus of Uncalled Witnesses: Jim Denman (White's Jailer), Young Mother, Milk's Friend, Gwenn Craig (Vice President of Harvey Milk Democratic Club), Harry Britt (City Supervisor), Joseph Freitas (D.A.), Mourner,

Trial Characters: The Court, Court Clerk, Douglas Schmidt (Defense Attorney), Thomas F. Norman (Prosecuting Attorney), Joanna Lu (TV Reporter), Prospective Jurors, Juror #3/Foreman Bailiff,

Witnesses for the People: Coroner Stephens, Rudy Nothenberg (Deputy Mayor, Moscone's Friend), Barabara Taylor (Reporter), Officer Byrne (Department of Records), William Melia (Civil Engineer), Cyr Copertini (Secretary to Mayor), Carl Henry Carlson (Aide to Harvey Milk), Richard Pabich (Assistant to Harvey Milk), Frank Falzon (Inspector, Homicide), Edward Erdelatz (Inspector),

Witnesses for the Defense: Denise Apcar (Aide to White), Sherratt (Fire Chief), Frediani (Fireman), Sullivan (Police Officer), Lee Dolson (City Supervisor), Psychiatrists: Dr. Jones, Dr. Solomon, Dr. Blinder, Dr. Lunde, Dr. Delman,

In Rebuttal for the People: Carol Ruth Silver (City Supervisor), Dr. Levy (Psychiatrist), Riot Police, Action Cameraman


  1. ^ Google Books. Samuel French, Inc. 1986. Retrieved 25 November 2008. 
  2. ^ "Arena Stage season listing". Retrieved December 3, 2011. 
  3. ^ Gussow, Mel. Stage: Emily Mann’s ‘Execution of Justice’. New York Times. 14 March 1986. [1]
  4. ^ Execution of Justice at the Internet Broadway Database
  5. ^ Kim, Ellen A. (August 22, 2001). "2000 GLAAD Media Awards". Hollywood.com. Retrieved 31 May 2012. 
  6. ^ Pogash, Carol (2003-11-23). "Myth of the 'Twinkie defense': The verdict in the Dan White case wasn't based on his ingestion of junk food". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2007-08-10. 
  7. ^ Snopes: The Twinkie Defense

Execution of Justice by Emily Mann (Samuel French, Inc.)

External links[edit]