Should an abused woman who killed their abuser receive life in prison? Vanguard University’s “Life Without Parole,” at the Lyceum Theater, told the stories of victims of domestic violence who kill their abuser. October is domestic violence awareness month and “Life Without Parole” is the vessel that brings attention to the social issue of domestic violence for the students of Vanguard University.
Life Without Parole is based on the stories of 42 women who are serving unreasonably long sentences for killing their abusive partners. The play was written by Warren Doody, professor of English and Theatre Arts, at Vanguard University and directed by Theater Department Chair, Susan Berkompas. The contemporary drama concentrated on the stories of five women. Vanguard’s Nahtori Johnson acts as the main protagonist, Helen, who drives the story forward. As Helen sits in the California Institute for Women at Chino, she tells her story to the militant, Parole Board Commissioner, Joseph Kellerman. Although Helen is the focus, the play cuts to each of the other four women on stage, who tell their stories, almost like a Greek chorus, to the audience. Each woman, with a completely different journey, passionately describes their upbringing and their life leading up to the day of their partner’s murder. The five stories of these women are interwoven flawlessly with one agenda in mind: domestic violence.
Writer, Warren Doody, first received the idea for this play after he was contacted by Dr. Elizabeth Dermody Leonard, who wanted to turn her research on domestic violence into a play. With the intention to spread the message of domestic violence and its’ preventative measures, Leonard and Doody collaborated to tell the truth about 42 women at the California Institute for Women at Chino. Doody used the transcribed interviews from Leonard’s conducted interviews and research in order to honor the full truths of their stories. It was evident from the beginning that the cast, and all of those involved, cared and were passionate about the topic.
“This show means a lot to me because it fights for abused women and shows a very accurate view of what many women go through. It is also a huge step for our department, as it pushes the boundaries of really anything we have done recently as a department. To be entertained would be the wrong word, but thoroughly engaging is more accurate” say’s Luke David, House Manager.
The performances by the actors propelled the melancholy tone of the play. Although the actors have very little similarities to the women they are representing, the audience could see and feel the pain of these women as if the actual women were on stage.
The play is a must see. It is difficult to describe the passion and the way the actors put themselves in the shoes of these women. It was clear that the cast and crew of this play were genuinely invested by the quality of the production. The way the actors connected to their roles allowed the audience to relate and feel the emotions, which made the play that much more engaging.
“Life Without Parole” gives a voice to the women who never had a voice and allowed the audience to truly listen and understand the stories of these unheard women. It serves as a reminder that domestic violence is a detrimental issue and that everything isn’t always as it seems.