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Play addresses the death penalty

When the audience walks out of the theater after “Coyote on a Fence,” the cast and director want them to be thinking about the death penalty.

“It is an important issue in society,” graduate student and director Fred Liebfried said. “I don’t think people think about it enough.”

The play “Coyote on a Fence” will premier Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. in the Arena Theatre in the Warren M. Lee Center for Fine Arts building. It will run through Saturday with a 2 p.m. performance on Sunday. Directed by Liebfried, it will feature junior Brian Muldoon and seniors Iah Kinley, Marcus Langseth and Erin Gallion.

Written by playwright Bruce Graham, “Coyote on a Fence” portrays two death row inmates as they live with the death penalty hanging over their heads. John is educated and working the system while Bobby is mentally challenged and probably belongs in a hospital. The play revolves around their interactions with each other, a prison guard and a reporter for The New York Times.

Liebfried said “Coyote on a Fence” intrigues him because it “juxtaposes characters that are real in a situation that is almost surreal” — a sentiment that was echoed by Muldoon.

“It puts a human face on the death penalty,” he said.

When asked how his perception of the death penalty has been affected by his involvement in “Coyote on a Fence,” Kinley said he didn’t know enough about the variances in the law between the states but that he has done some serious thinking on the issue.

“The play reiterates how people on death row can be branded as animals,” he said.

Liebfried said the play doesn’t promote one view point of the death penalty over another.

Each member of the cast has a notebook chock full of research and notes on the death penalty, mental illness and prison life.

“We’ve been studying news figures and watching documentaries on Netflix,” Langseth said.

Langseth also said they’ve been perusing the Dead Man Eating Weblog, a website that records the last meals of people put to death all over the country.

Muldoon said they’ve been immersed in research.

“(Liebfried) started us in a really good spot when we began rehearsing,” he said.

Liebfried said another resource has been playwright Bruce Graham, who has been answering questions from the cast since they started rehearsing.

“It has been really awesome to correspond with the playwright and ask him questions,” Gallion said.

Liebfried said the characters in “Coyote on a Fence” are difficult to play.

“It would be tough for any actor to play these roles,” he said. “These young performers will really shine.”

For Muldoon, the character of Bobby has presented a challenge.

“With Bobby, it’s a reflection of good and evil,” he said. “You see both of them and you don’t know what to label him as.”

Langseth said his character, Sam the reporter, represents society’s view of people and how we use them for our advancement.

“Right or wrong, we use them (people) as pawns for the next point of the game,” he said. “We exploit them.”

A sentiment constantly echoed by Liebfried and his cast is the hope that the audience will come with an open mind.

“The goal of theater is to be thought-provoking,” Gallion said, “and this show is definitely that.”

Reach reporter Jordan Foye at [email protected].