Gammage tragedy inspires play

January 31, 2012
Written by: Carl Prine
Published by: The Tribune Review

It took seven minutes for Jonny Gammage, a black motorist in a borrowed Jaguar, to choke to death once five white officers tackled and cuffed him during a 1995 traffic stop.

Sixteen years later, Gammage's haunting last words to an officer at the scene -- "Keith, Keith, I'm 31. I'm only 31." -- will echo across Oakland's Henry Heymann Theatre and the August Wilson Center, Downtown. Beginning Feb. 9, the Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company and the Pittsburgh Repertory Theatre will stage "The Gammage Project," a dramatization of his death and the legal cases against three suburban officers that rippled from it.

"I want to force a discussion," said Attilio "Buck" Favorini, founder of the University of Pittsburgh's department of theater arts. "Scratch the surface, and you'll still find deep resentments on both sides of the white and black divide that need to be addressed. I want the dialogue to go on." 

Favorini, 67, said that he mulled penning the drama for years, but it was the 2010 beating of Homewood teen Jordan Miles by three white Pittsburgh officers that became his "catalyst."

"I thought, 'I can no longer remain silent about this.' "

Favorini said that 85 percent of the play comes from "found dialogue" taken mostly from court transcripts. Former Allegheny County Coroner Cyril Wecht's medical files -- including his ruling that Gammage succumbed to positional asphyxia caused by either his own weight while restrained or compression against his chest and back by officers from Brentwood, Baldwin and Whitehall -- guide the death scene...


Read the full article on the Tribune Review's website