Let the Watercooler Debates Begin 

Boise director brings death penalty to the forefront in Exonerated

Mike Silva is nothing if not ambitious.

Since his return to Idaho in 2001 after a 25-year hiatus, the Boise thespian has made a rather impressive mark on the Treasure Valley theater scene as both an actor and, more notably, a director for cutting-edge and often controversial works.

He's navigated the political machinations of Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons for Boise Little Theater, helmed a lively Annie Get Your Gun for Boise Music Week, and more recently, delved into the complex world of same-sex love and obsession in Terrence McNally's The Lisbon Traviata for Spontaneous Productions. He calls playing the part of King Arthur in Camelot, a Music Week production in the '70s, his all-time favorite role as an actor.

Silva's latest stint in the director's chair could arguably lead to more watercooler discussions than all of his previous envelope-pushers combined. With The Exonerated, a staged reading playing for three nights this weekend at the Flicks, Silva tackles the emotional subject of the death penalty. Proceeds from the performances will benefit the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho.

The Exonerated was written by two New York actors, Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen, who in 2000 interviewed 40 people around the country absolved of crimes, choosing six of their stories to create the staged reading. The pair also read court transcripts and case files of the people they spoke to. Nearly every word in the play comes from public record.

Silva learned of The Exonerated from his wife and business partner Rosemarie Casper. The couple operate CreativeArts, a downtown Boise-based company that licenses designs by a handful of artists to print onto gift items such as napkins and note pads. Casper saw the play performed while on a business trip in New York and suggested to her husband that it was something that Boiseans should see.

"I agreed, but the rights only became available about 10 months ago," said Silva. "I wanted to do the play as quickly as possible because it still has legs from its New York run and a national tour. I also felt it was important to do it now because there are signs in other parts of the country that people are beginning to think about the death penalty."

Silva believes it's the right time to get a dialogue started in Idaho on the subject.

"I didn't see the play as a vehicle for simply changing people's minds on the spot, but rather making them think that perhaps the criminal justice system here and elsewhere is not as good as we think it is at determining the real facts in criminal cases," he said.

Donating the proceeds to the ACLU of Idaho seemed appropriate, Silva said, because the organization is one that fights for people's rights, particularly those who are unfairly treated by the criminal justice system.

The Boise cast of 14 come from all walks of life, but consist largely of Valley community theater performers and singers with whom Silva has worked on past productions. They include Tony Park, an attorney for Huntley Park LLP, who served as Idaho's attorney general in the early '70s; David Rose, a banker for Zions Bank; Christian Shiverick, a production specialist for Micron Technology; Buffie Main, a pilates instructor who holds a fine arts degree in theater arts; and Cherie Buckner-Webb, a gospel, jazz and blues vocalist who recorded with the late Gene Harris, and works as a diversity consultant with Hewlett Packard. Rounding out the cast are Spike Ericson, Katherine Grimmett, Marcus Hunter, Tom McCabe, Bryan McLaughlin, Isaac Milton, Dayo Onanubosi, R.K. Williams and Silva himself.

"The people in the Boise production are local residents and actors who read this play and decided that participating in it had meaning for them beyond what an actor's usual compensation would be from pleasing an audience," Silva said. "We have worked together to keep this play the simple telling of what happened, rather than making it into high drama with people chewing on 'scenery.'"

Silva's love of theater evolved as a result of growing up in a household where his father worked in the motion picture business. Silva occasionally appeared as an extra, even landing credited parts in two 1944 flicks-the musical Meet Miss Bobby Socks and the adventure film The Black Parachute, cast as Peter, "the boy guerilla."

"But I never wanted a career in show business because of what I saw it do to my father and lots of associates," he said.

Silva did the occasional play and musical in junior high and high school, but didn't really dive into theater until moving to Boise in the early '70s following a long journalism career, including a stint at Life Magazine. Parts in Mame, Guys and Dolls, 1776 and, of course, Camelot, cemented his love of the stage.

"I believe community theater provides an experience for all participants-actors, stage hands and audiences-a chance to grow and learn," he said, "to be compelled by what they see, to see themselves (if they are at all willing), to see others and gain a greater understanding."

The Exonerated, written by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen, directed by Mike Silva. $17, (proceeds benefit ACLU of Idaho), 7 p.m. July 7, 8 and 9 at The Flicks, 646 Fulton St., for more information call 344-9750, ext. 201.

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