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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
First Monday In October


I'm trying to save you from being on the losing end of every vote--- Chief Justice Crawford to liberal Assoc. Justice Snow
I don't want to be saved. I want to keep going straight to hell. ---Snow


This 1976 play is the slightest of Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee famed political works (Inherit The Wind, The Night Thoreau Spent In Jail) and it seems downright tame compared to the issues and strife-torn Supreme Court we see today. But, as Spencer Tracy once said, "What there is, is choice."

The issues dividing fierce liberal Justice Dan Snow (Ralph Waite) and newly appointed conservative Justice Ruth Loomis (Laurie O'Brien) are less generational than the 30-something years dividing them. Snow is dedicated to the First Amendment rights of the individual, even for the producer of such painfully sleazy porn films as The Naked Nymphomaniac. Loomis, devoted to the big picture, expresses the welfare of society at large. They each have a grudging admiration for the other and their being worthy adversaries gives their duels a heightened relish.

The playwrights use role-playing to enliven the script. Loomis grills Snow as he sits in the witness chair playing porn producer Mahoney and Snow turns the tables, interrogating her in the person of the evasive Richards, the corporate figure who he suspects is dead. This leads to the play's climactic question: conflict of interest.

Lawrence and Lee's dialogue is always a joy, as they crisply clash swords and mine humor that goes beyond one-liners. Director Allan Miller finds the integrity in each of his characters and is well served by an excellent cast. Ralph Waite is strong and sly as Snow, the justice more wedded to the law than to his wife. O'Brien's silky determination makes Loomis more likeable than she's written. Although both Snow and Loomis are written more as attitudes than characters, the actors in this case bring them to heartfelt life, abetted by Miller's care in using their passion to keep the play moving without overpowering the dialogue. Kent Minault plays the Chief Justice with easy sophistication and his scenes with Waite have chemistry overlaying shared old boys' club humor.

Victoria Profitt designed the excellent set. Tthe two justices' offices flank a pillared court fašade that is garnished by Kathi O'Donohue's mellow lighting design.

The play, with its firmly held liberal/conservative viewpoints, still has much relevance but it makes you feel the time is right for an update. Unfortunately a 21st century play about the Supreme Court would be unlikely to find the sophisticated wit and fractious charm of this Tracy/Hepburn style encounter.

FIRST MONDAY IN OCTOBER
Playwright: Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee
Director: Allan Miller
Cast: Kent Minault (Chief Justice James Jefferson Crawford), Ralph Waite (Associate Justice Daniel Snow), Frank Boyd (Marshal), Dennis Delsing (Assoc Just Richard Carey), Tim Hodgin (Ass Jus Josiah Clewes), Bruce B. Mathews (Assoc Just Harold Webb), Charles Anteby (Ass Just Christopher Halloran), Bill J. Stevens (Assoc Justice Waldo Thompson), Scott Roberts (Mason Woods), Laurie O'Brien (Assoc Justice Ruth Loomis), Gary Waynesmith (Blake), Ken Zavayna (Ass Just Ambrose Quincy), Mario Z (Nightwatchman), Jason Liska (Photographer/1st Attandant), Jon Ericksen (2nd Attendant & Mr. Robinson)
Set Design: Victoria Profitt
Lighting Design: Kathi O'Donohue
Costume Design: Jennifer Koster
Sound Design: Ed Zajac
Running Time: Two hours, one intermission
Running Dates: April 8 to June 4, 2006
Where:. Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. Reservations: (310) 477-2055.
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on April 14.
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©Copyright 2006, Elyse Sommer.
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