Sunday, May 3, 2015

The New Trial

May 2, the “new” Trial by Jury reenactment played to a full house in the 1874 courthouse at Historic Washington State Park and it was quite well received. I was happy, because in the spring of 2013, upon a request from the state park superintendent, I wrote the script for the drama which was approved at the state level for production. Then I wrote a novel entitled Some Became Fools about the 1879 crime and the 1880 trial. The novel came out awhile back and it was available for purchase at the gift shop after the reenactment May 2. I signed quite a few copies.
I played Judge Grandison D. Royston, the specially appointed judge who presided over the murder trial of a man who poisoned his wife and tried to cover up his crime by a hasty burial. The park historian and interpreter worked with me on developing versions of the script to include several additional witnesses who told the story of the murderer’s scheme to commit this heinous crime so that he could be with a person witnesses referred to as a strumpet. Having so many folks testify in the reenactment required considerable recruitment of a variety of volunteers. We were down to the wire in casting.
By contrast, the “old” 1844 Trial by Jury, which takes place in the 1836 courthouse a few blocks from the 1874 one, requires a much smaller cast with only five or six witnesses testifying. While the park does use volunteers to staff some of the acting slots, it is possible for park personnel to put that one on without volunteers. The state park has been presenting this “old” trial for many years.
I have been cast as the judge in the two trials and in both there are opportunities for high drama. In the “old” 1844 trial of a man who murdered his best friend over a woman, there is a moment in which the prosecutor traps the accused in a lie and there is a struggle between the accused and the sheriff. In the “new” 1880 trial, there is a similar scene in which the accused objects to affidavits affirming that he had uttered incriminating evidence before the murder. In both these explosive scenes, the cast members try to make the emotional outbursts seem real and not contrived. It often works in the “old” trial and it certainly achieved its purpose in the “new” one on May 2. I heard more than one comment that everything seemed very real.

As I understand the park’s plan, these two dramas will alternate with each other every three months. Registered attendees will have a meal at the Tavern Restaurant and then go to the respective courthouse for the action. Historic Washington State Park maintains a schedule of events on its Web page.

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