A highly emotional topic — the death penalty — is a subject evoking strong opinions and often starkly opposing viewpoints. Crespi Carmelite High School’s drama department is turning its stage lights on this issue in October as they partner with Louisville High School in a production of Tim Robbins’ “Dead Man Walking” play, based on Sister of St. Joseph Helen Prejean’s Pulitzer Prize nominated non-fiction book of the same name. The 1995 film, “Dead Man Walking,” written and directed by Robbins, garnered an Academy Award for Best Actress for Susan Sarandon, who played the role of Sister Prejean.The “Dead Man Walking” story of Louisiana death row prisoner, Matt Poncelet, and his spiritual advisor, Sister Prejean, is one few people can easily forget, once they’ve witnessed the humanity of a cold-blooded murderer, his innocent victims and the family members and clergy who love and care for them all. When everyone else has given up on him, Sister Prejean shows true compassion by remaining at Poncelet’s side even as he walks the long hallway to the room where his lethal injection is administered. She urges him to reconsider confessing his crime — even though there’s no hope of saving his life. She helps him see it will save something far more valuable … his eternal soul.“This play explores the death penalty issue from many angles,” said Peter Jeensalute, the play’s director and head of Crespi’s Drama Department. “It reminds all of us we are human, no matter our choices. And it highlights very beautifully the Church’s position on the death penalty. However, it does this in a very human way … it never preaches to the audience. They are left to search their hearts and come to their own conclusions.”“It is my hope that those who view this drama will be deeply touched to take action to abolish the death penalty in California,” said Sister of St. Louis Myra McPartland, president of Louisville High School in Woodland Hills. “We have that opportunity on November 6 when we go to the polls and vote ‘yes’ on Proposition 34.”“It has been difficult playing a murderer,” said Mark Sasaki, a Crespi senior and male lead in the play. “But, by doing this play, I see how human Matt Poncelet is … and I understand no one’s life should be taken, no matter how heinous the crime. I know our performances will show people that prisoners deserve compassion and prison sentences for their crimes — not death.”“The play points out the incredible pain inflicted on the families of the victims — an easy perspective for all of us to relate to,” commented Louisville junior Katelyn Norman. “It also shows you the truth … the murderer’s family loves him, too — they see him as their brother or their son. The reality of the situation is played out and the audience has the chance to make up their own minds.”Central to this story is the true heroine, Sister Prejean, who as a young woman attended the all-girls’ St. Joseph Academy in Baton Rouge, where she learned public speaking, leadership and was elected student body president. After high school, it wasn’t long before she entered the St. Joseph of Medaille order, at the age of 18. “Many of our students are just beginning to see how powerful they can be in the world, particularly regarding issues of peace and justice,” said Michael Bates, assistant principal for student life at Louisville High School. “This play demonstrates to our young women how important their life’s work can be. As they see Sister Helen — a woman who was once a girl like them — care for the most outcast members of our society, they have the chance to find their own place in serving the world with their unique talents and gifts.”“As teachers we strive to find ways of allowing our students to reflect on life’s issues so they are ultimately guided by informed hearts, rather than by fleeting outside influences," added Carmelite Father Paul Henson. “After exploring these issues in the safe environment of our schools, students are prepared to live their faith by being of service to the disenfranchised members of our society after graduation.”“Dead Man Walking” will be presented Oct. 12-14 and Oct. 19-21 at Crespi Carmelite High School, located at 5031 Alonzo Ave., Encino. General admission tickets ($12) can be purchased online at www.crespi.org. Friday and Saturday performances begin at 7 p.m., Sunday performances at 2 p.m.{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2012/1012/deadman/{/gallery}