Steubenville rape case featured in stage play

COLUMBUS – In “Camelot Broken,” writer-director Brendan Michna takes the Steubenville rape case from the courtroom to the stage, dramatizing the words of those surrounding the case while examining the impact of technology.

“It was kind of impossible not to hear about that case a little bit,” Michna said of the arrest and trial of Steubenville High School student-athletes Trent Mays and Ma’Lik Richmond, who were convicted in March of raping a 16-year-old Weirton girl.

“America’s kind of like this golden world, but it has this broken part to it, and cases like this kind of illustrate that” Michna offered on the 10-minute play’s title.

The action in “Camelot Broken” is not a traditional narrative and does not explicitly tell the story of the crime and the subsequent trial. Instead, a character called “Football” tells the story surrounding a rape through Steubenville’s court record.

“Football” is played by Franciscan University of Steubenville graduate Chad Hewitt. Hewitt could not be reached for comment.

Although Michna used no names or locations from the case, he acknowledged that the story is easily recognizable and said “I don’t think anybody in the audience will have any doubt as to where the genesis of this came from.”

The case was considered monumental because of the impact of social media, and technology in general. It was also an insight into the way teenagers communicate today and what they say when no one is listening.

On the second day of the trial, a timeline unfolded in court as a forensic specialist from the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation read hundreds of text messages that were sent among teens in the minutes leading up to the crimes, as well as in the days following.

Michna pulled those texts, which appeared online after the trial, and inserted them into the script. He borrowed from the case so much, he billed himself as the compiler rather than the playwright.

“It’s absolutely impossible not to say I pulled information and inspiration from that case,” Michna admitted.

Michna also took note of CNN’s coverage of the verdict, which received scathing criticism for the perceived sympathy reporter Poppy Harlow expressed for Mays and Richmond following their convictions.

The director watched the clip of Mays standing in court and apologizing to the girl and her family, while Richmond crossed the courtroom and broke down in tears before the victim’s mother. The defendants’ apologies are recited verbatim in the dialogue.

“You could change name of the town and this could happen on the other side of the country; there’s no doubt about it,” Michna said.

That sentiment also was shared by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine following the trial. Michna also introduced DeWine’s message about the ongoing grand jury into the play.

In the final piece of action, Michna used a piece of evidence from the Steubenville case as a starting point for a conversation about rape and sexual assault.

“We need to talk about this,” the 16-year-old victim urged Mays in a text message.

“Camelot Broken” premieres at 10 p.m. today at the MadLab Theatre in downtown Columbus, with an encore performance at 10 p.m. Saturday.