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Play, author visit address themes of Runner Reader/One Book selection

Electric Chair Two men from similar backgrounds who make different choices with their lives and end up in different circumstances. This is the theme of "The Other Wes Moore," CSUB's current Runner Reader book and the coinciding read for One Book, One Bakersfield, One Kern – the author of which will visit CSUB on Nov. 8. It is also the theme of "A Lesson Before Dying," a play based on a novel of the same name that CSUB's theatre department is producing Nov. 3-6.

"Both 'A Lesson Before Dying' and 'The Other Wes Moore' touch on themes of responsibility, sacrifice, racial prejudice, and the vital importance of education," said Mandy Rees, chair of the CSUB Theatre Department. "We selected this play because first, it is a beautiful and poignant piece, and second, we wanted to complement and enrich the experience of reading 'The Other Wes Moore.'"

Adapted for the stage by Romulus Linney (who died in January 2011 of lung cancer) and directed by CSUB theatre professor Maria-Tania Becerra, the play is set in 1948 Louisiana. It is about two black men who face racial inequality – one sentenced to death for a murder to which he was a party but did not commit, and the other a plantation school teacher who visits him in jail to help him learn to be proud of himself as a man: his final lesson of life.

The characters echo those of the dual biography "The Other Wes Moore," in which the author – who escaped the drug- and crime-infested streets of Baltimore through education and military service – visits a man by the same name who is sentenced to life without parole for being an accessory to a murder.

The play provides yet another lesson in how the choices we make, both personally and as a community, can affect two people's lives in such a vastly different manner. The student actors are going so far as to learn about the racial issues of the late 1940s under the research of a student dramaturg who is researching the time period as part of her senior project. The students are also debating the merits of the death penalty, which is receiving scrutiny in the California Legislature as well as nationwide in the wake of Troy Davis' execution in Georgia in September.

"The play wrestles with ideas beyond the death penalty," Rees said. "How do you keep your dignity in the face of injustice? How do you find strength and courage when you want to give up? How can you find meaning and purpose in difficult circumstances?"

"A Lesson Before Dying" is at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, Nov. 3-5, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 6 inside the Doré Theatre at CSUB, 9001 Stockdale Highway. Admission is $10 general, $8 seniors/faculty/staff, and $5 students with ID. Due to adult language, the show is not suitable for children. Tickets are for sale one hour prior to the show or by calling the box office at 661-654-3150.

The author of "The Other Wes Moore," Wes Moore, will visit CSUB at 7 p.m. Nov. 8 for a talk in the Student Recreation Center Gym. The talk is free and open to the public; a book signing will follow. Parking is free in Lot K. For more information, call 661-654-2144 or visit

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