Beloit College play examines role of forgiveness in justice system

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Photo provided (From left): Student actors Khamron Wells, Sydney Mercado, Peter Gustafson and Kaela Hadaway perform in "The Forgiveness Project." The play opens on Oct. 5 at Beloit College.

BELOIT - The role forgiveness plays in the justice system is at the heart of Beloit College's latest play.

"The Forgiveness Project" will be presented at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 5, 6, 12, 13 and 14, with a 5 p.m. performance on Oct. 8 in the Kresge Theatre. The play was developed and presented through a special arrangement with Chicago's Erasing the Distance Theatre Company.

Amy Sarno, artistic director at Erasing the Distance and associate professor of theatre arts at Beloit College, worked with custom programs manager Jana Ross back in 2015 to explore the relationship between mental health and forgiveness. The play was later performed in Chicago last year.

One of the stories in that play was about a person who was imprisoned for a crime he didn't commit, and Sarno and Ross decided to develop a play that would focus more on the criminal justice system. They interviewed 20 individuals from all walks of life who were involved in the system.

They then took four of these stories and developed them into "The Forgiveness Project," which Sarno is directing at Beloit College.

Since Sarno runs the Erasing the Distance Theatre Company in Chicago, she's very aware of the question on everyone's minds: what can people do to stop the violence?

"(The play) asks the question, is the justice system working and does forgiveness have a role to play in the justice system?," Sarno said.

In the play, audience members will hear from an academic, a gang member, a police officer and someone whose daughter was murdered.

"All four of the characters feel like the justice system has failed them or they're questioning if it's solving the problems that need to be solved," Sarno said.

She said the play is meant to help people think about the trauma that's going on in Chicago as well as discussing restorative justice.

"Restorative justice looks at wrongdoers and people who have been wronged getting together and helping each other understand how that crime harmed that person, how it effects their life and why that person committed the crime," Sarno said.

She said people have to face each other and figure out what the punishment should be. Right now, Chicago has restorative justice hubs that began in the schools and has since expanded to some court rooms. It's even been used in some murder cases.

"The trauma that's going on in the south and west parts of Chicago, it's shocking that's happening right here in the U.S.," Sarno said. "What we're doing isn't helping, but making matters worse."

She said the play at Beloit College is a rough draft that will be performed in Chicago with expanded viewpoints. The play likely will open in Chicago in late March/early April.

Ticket prices are $10 for adults, $7 for seniors and faculty and $5 for students. Call 608-363-2755 for tickets.

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