A former prisoner's journey to redemption in Out of Hand Theatre's production 'Calf'

Marlon Burnley plays seven different roles in "Calf." (Photo credit: Thomas Brazzle)

There are two million people incarcerated in the United States, and the recidivism rate is more than 50% within three years of their release. Two out of three former prisoners are rearrested. “Calf,” a play by Atlanta native Leviticus Jelks, examines a former prisoner’s journey to redemption. The show was commissioned by Out of Hand Theater and will be performed through May 21 in living rooms across Atlanta. Ariel Fristoe, the artistic director of “Calf” and associate artistic director of Out of Hand, joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes and actor Marlon Burnley to talk more about the show.

Interview highlights follow below.

A story of bittersweet and fragile freedom:

“‘Calf’ is 24 hours in the life of a man who had just spent ten years in prison, after going into prison very young, probably as a teenager. And this is the first 24 hours after he’s released,” said Fristoe. “He has several things he’s trying to accomplish. He needs a place to stay. He needs a job. He wants to reconnect with his family, but most importantly, his goal is to meet the son who was born shortly after he went into prison, whom he has never met.”

Playing seven roles in different races and genders:

“It was truly an honor to step into each and every role, especially the ones that are complete opposite of me,” Burnley said. “I really identify with Arna, who is [main character] Eli’s mother, and Renelle, who is Eli’s girlfriend. I connect to these women because I see them in my own life. I see a lot of my mom in Arna, my wife, and my sisters, and so it was really important for me to honor those experiences and those women. Fortunately and also, unfortunately, in my own personal life, I don’t live too far from several of these characters that I portray. I’ve seen people experience these things, so it was really easy to draw from that.”

“What if you were remembered for the worst thing you’ve ever done?”:

“I could have easily been in Eli’s situation,” said Burnley. “I grew up in a neighborhood that I imagine is similar to the one that he grew up in. I’ve come into contact with some of the same characters that he’s come in contact with, and I’ve also, like other people, I’ve made bad choices, but the difference is I was able to notice those bad choices and then make opposite choices, you know? So it would drive me crazy if someone was like, ‘Hey Marlon,’ remember that thing you did when you were 18? That was terrible, and that’s how we’re going to label you.’”

A production in partnership with the Georgia Justice Project:

“Their mission is to demonstrate a better way to support and represent, legally represent, people who are involved in the criminal justice system, and to help reduce the barriers to re-entry when you come out of prison,” said Fristoe. “They are just an incredible partner to have on this project… This is Out of Hand’s model for these shows: we have a one-act play, but then every night, we also have a cocktail party, and we have a conversation with someone from Georgia Justice Project about the issue, about incarceration and recidivism and re-entry, and about their work.”

“Calf” takes place in living rooms across Atlanta through May 21 and at 7 Stages on May 9. Tickets and more information are available at www.outofhandtheater.com/calf