Strange Dramaturgy: Leo Frank — Jaz Dorsey , Parade — AAPEX

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Strange Dramaturgy: Leo Frank

Hugh M. Dorsey

Leo Frank

My father and I were what you might call "estranged," and the only thing I got when he died was an odd little book with the rather cumbersome title "Argument of Hugh M. Dorsey, Solicitor General, Atlanta Judicial Circuit, at the trial of Leo M. Frank, Charged with the murder of Mary Phagan."

Hugh Dorsey was my grandfather and, after his frighteningly successful prosecution of Leo Frank, he was elected to two terms as Governor of Georgia, 1917 - 1921, From a very early age, I knew the story of Leo Frank.

This fall, The Boiler Room Theatre in Franklin, Tennessee brings us PARADE, a musical based on the trial and lynching of Leo Frank, with my grandfather pretty much the villain of the piece. I first saw PARADE when it ran at Lincoln Center in the late 90s. It was very strange to watch my grandfather, who I never knew, sing, dance and prosecute Leo Frank.

PARADE is by renowned Atlanta playwright Alfred Uhry, with music by composer Jason Robert Brown, and I am excited to have the opportunity to be on board the Boiler Room team as dramaturg, but it is, I must concede, a very "strange dramaturgy" because it hits so close to home and rattles a lot of skeletons in a lot of the closets of my life.

Over the years, people have told me that I should write a play about Leo. I never understood why anyone would think I would want to do that, so I was relieved when PARADE came along. At the same time, always knowing in my heart somehow that Leo was innocent, I think it is a story that needs to be told and listened to.

Doing the dramaturgy means doing the research, and the first book one grabs these days on the subject of Leo Frank is AND THE DEAD SHALL RISE by Steve Oney. Oney's book isn't just about Leo Frank - it is an amazing and compelling history of Atlanta at the turn of the century, so rich in research and knowledge that one paragraph can provoke and entire day googling the various players who keep coming on the scene.

From Oney I learned that Leo's defense attorney, Luther Rosser, was directly connected to the Dorsey clan, as his son, Luther Rosser, jr. was married to my grandfather's sister. Creepy. It seems that there is much that is suspect about Rosser's defense. Well duh. Can you say "conflict of interest"?

Leonard Dinnerstein's book THE LEO FRANK CASE pretty much attributes every possible variable of prosecutorial misconduct to my grandfather. It seems that Dorsey had only recently acquired his post as Solicitor General and had lost his first two cases. To put it mildly, his ass was on the line. This was a case he had to win and damn did he.

It is strange dramaturgy indeed which strikes so close to home.

Dancing skeletons from my family closet!

Come to Nashville and Go to the Theatre

Jaz Dorsey

1 comment:

  1. Check out the analysis of the murder of Mary Phagan and Leo Frank trial at the American Mercury August, September and October of 2013!