This third offering in Cornerstone Theater Company’s justice cycle is a disturbing docudrama by KJ Sanchez, which deals with the legal inequities and personal tragedies of the American justice system — specifically in California, where the egregious three-strikes law compels life sentences even for relatively minor offenses. The play — framed by passages from Aeschylus, which speak to the tragedy of revenge and retribution — airs multiple points of view: They include those of the families of victims, their lives shattered by the murder of a loved one; and those of inmates, some of whom perpetrated those crimes. Also portrayed are jail counselors and the parole officials, who wield incredible power in a bankrupt and overextended system. The most compelling thread centers on an inmate named Talena (Bahni Turpin), a mature lifer who’s worked hard to rehabilitate herself but is denied parole each time after testimony from her victim’s family. Joshua Lamont, as an innocent severely beaten by two street thugs, delivers the most moving monologue. Turpin, Lamont and M.C. Earl, as a minor felon who pleads to meet with his brother (Lamont), deliver the play’s emotional highlights. Laurie Woolery directs an ensemble heavily weighted with nonprofessional performers, resulting in rough edges. The narrow, oblong playing area creates another obstacle to effective staging. But Sanchez’s script, while a bit lengthy, is otherwise cogent and focused, and at times eloquent in humanizing a knotty social issue. Shakespeare Festival/LA, 1238 W. First St., Los Angeles; Wed..-Sat. 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Nov. 23. (213) 613-1700, Ext. 33.

Sundays, 3 p.m.; Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Starts: Oct. 26. Continues through Nov. 23, 2008

LA Weekly