WATERVILLE — Next week, veteran and novice actors will offer a plea for marriage equality and a forum for discussion on the divisive issue.

Twenty-one actors will perform “8,” a play that re-enacts events surrounding a 2010 lawsuit that overturned California’s Proposition 8, a voter referendum that threw out California’s 2008 law allowing same-sex marriage.

“It’s a piece of documentary theater,” said Lynne Conner, chairwoman of Colby’s Theater and Dance department.

The 90-minute play, which was written by Oscar-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, is compiled from court transcripts and TV news reports, Conner said.

“It all comes from the historical record,” she said. “It’s verbatim.”

Conner, who is co-directing the play, said the play’s message is unmistakable.

“The goal is to argue for marriage equality and for federal law to legalize same-sex marriage. That said, the opinions from opposing viewpoints are in the play in significant ways,” she said.

The play was commissioned by Broadway Impact, a nonprofit organization that advocates for marriage equality, and the American Foundation of Equal Rights, which brought the lawsuit. Broadway Impact is distributing the play free to professional and academic theaters around the country. It was recently performed in Los Angeles by George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Martin Sheen and other A-list stars.

“8″ is a staged reading, Conner said. The actors read from scripts, but the production will include elements of set, lighting and sound design.

Conner said Broadway Impact approached Colby College because of Maine’s upcoming role in the same-sex marriage debate. This November, voters will decide whether to approve a ballot initiative legalizing such marriages in the state.

Conner said Broadway Impact imposed two caveats on the event. The production had to incorporate members of the community into its cast, and the audience has to be included in a discussion after the play.

The 21 actors include Colby professors and students, two students from Waterville Senior High School and members of the community — including Mayor Karen Heck.

Heck, who is a 1974 Colby graduate, said she hasn’t acted since she was in second grade, but she’s excited for the show and stands behind its content.

“I’m thrilled that Waterville will be able to experience this play,” she said. “I think Waterville is a really accepting community, one that values diversity.”

She said she’s not worried about political fallout from embracing such a polarizing issue.

“I don’t plan to run for higher office and I don’t plan to run again. I’m in a really luxurious position of being able to say and do what I think is right,” Heck said.

Conner said the discussion afterward is equally as important as, if not more important than, the show itself.

“It’s clear that the people engaged in the project are for marriage equality and for the right for same-sex couples to marry, but we are interested in a dialogue with the community, including people who don’t share that view.”

Conner said several groups who oppose same-sex marriage, including groups such as the Christian Civic League, have been invited.

“If there are people out there who want to come and say, ‘This is why I don’t believe in it,’ we welcome them,” she said.

Pastor Bob Emrich of the Emmanuel Bible Baptist Church in Plymouth is Chairman of Protect Marriage Maine, a group opposed to same-sex marriage. Emrich said Thursday he hasn’t received an invitation, but he doesn’t think he will attend.

“Probably not,” he said. “I understand they’re going to give the opposition an opportunity to speak their position; but when it’s set up specifically to promote one side, it doesn’t seem like a very productive thing.”

The discussion will be moderated by Margaret McFadden, a professor of American Studies at Colby. McFadden recently married her same-sex partner at a ceremony in New York, Conner said.

“(McFadden) is amazingly fair-minded and she knows how to facilitate a conversation that will allow everyone’s views to be heard,” she said.

The free 7:30 p.m. Monday performance will take place at Strider Theater at Colby College.

In 2009, Maine’s Legislature passed a law legalizing same-sex marriage, but it was overturned later that year in a statewide referendum, 53 percent to 47 percent.

In California, same-sex marriages are on hold while the lawsuit is appealed.

Ben McCanna — 861-9239

bmccanna@centralmaine.com