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Sunday, August 5, 2007

David Wiltse's "Sedition" Premiers in Westport: Powerful Championship of First Amendment

David Wiltse's Sedition premiered this weekend at the Westport (Connecticut) Country Playhouse. I just got back from its second performance, and a panel I was asked to appear on for discussion of the play. It is as powerful a championship of the First Amendment as I've ever seen in a play or a movie - someone in the audience compared it to Arthur Miller's Crucible. Given the dark ages our freedom of expression, and respect for the First Amendment, has fallen upon, Sedition couldn't come at a better time. Wiltse is an Edgar-award winning author of books and scripts for television, film, and stage. Sedition tells the true story of his grandfather, Andrew Schrag (played passionately by Chris Sarandon), Chair of the German Department at the University of Nebraska in 1917. The United States is about to enter the First World War, and Schrag, seeing that neither side has a clear-cut moral superiority (we're dealing with World War I here, not World War II), agonizes over his students going off to war. When one is killed overseas, Schrag starts speaking out against the war - expressing sentiments prohibited by the newly enacted Espionage Act. Megrim, a government investigator of sedition played with searing precision and style by Jeffrey DeMunn, has the effrontery to lecture Schrag that Americans most follow the "law" - meaning, the Espionage Act, and in complete disregard of the First Amendment, which says "Congress shall make no law ... abridging freedom of speech." As I remarked on the panel, things have only gotten worse for the First Amendment since then. We not only have a Patriot Act, as unconstitutional as the Espionage Act, but Congress and the FCC daily violate the First Amendment with their threats and fines. And only one Presidential candidate speaks out about this - Ron Paul. I mentioned his name in my comments, and got a smattering of applause from the audience. A hopeful sign. The acting in the play was excellent throughout. I also especially enjoyed Collin McPhillamy as the University Chancellor, Mark Shanahan as an Associate Professor, with views similar to Schrag's, Hannah Cabell as Schlag's conflicted wife, Harriet. I won't tell you the ending - see it, if you can. Wiltse's play, directed with gusto and sensitivity by Tazewell Thompson, should be a must-see for every American - including the other Presidential candidates. See also Wiltse's "Sedition": Perfect Medium for 1917 First Amendment Story and More on "Sedition": The Play and the Professor, Then and Now Cabell, Sarandon, and Shanahan in their roles

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