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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Ms. Trial
by Laura Hitchcock

Dep Kirkland -- lawyer, actor, playwright -- combines all three of his multiple lives in Ms. Trial, a backstage courtroom drama in which he plays the principal character John Paris.

Paris and new colleagues, his young cousin Daniel (John Livingston) and beautiful Karen Lukoff (Amy Laxineta), open the play debating techniques with which to win a suit against the railroad company whose train killed a child. Paris is frank in telling Dan that, though Karen is highly intelligent, he believes part of her value to their side is her beauty and sexual appeal. "Adapting to her will throw them off their game," he chuckles in one of the insider bon mots that is among the gems of this play. He enjoys her sexuality and Karen plays to that. Karen and Daniel are friends but when she finally admits that he didn't react to her kiss the implication is that he is gay.

Paris arranges to be left alone with Karen after the wild party the team throws to celebrate their victory. She's very drunk. He wants a kiss. He gets one. Then he wants more. She says no.

The second act deals with the consequences. Karen files rape charges and a hearing is chaired by Cathryn Aldridge (Jessica Steen). Kirkland uses this act to debate the familiar intricacies of rape cases. Karen testifies that a torn vagina is, in itself, testimony to the rape of an unlubricated unaroused woman. Paris says he's sorry, he was wrong, but it wasn't a crime and he doesn't remember anything that would imply it was. Dan, serving as his lawyer, shows a video of Karen at the victory party dancing topless, kissing Paris and rubbing against him. The case is ultimately rejected as lacking enough evidence to go to trial. Paris, however, discovers the video camera was left running and records his rape of Karen and her voice screaming "no."

Dan throws in a few specious arguments that there was chemistry between Paris and Karen and, in time, this would have happened anyway. Blah, blah, blah! Paris is left with the decision that is the play's finale.

There are no surprises in this play. Its main function, apart from the legal didacticism, is its introduction of Kirkland as a writer. There's a feeling that the work needs tightening, particularly in the first act which leaves us unsure as to where it's going. However, Kirkland grasps his subject and shakes it until its facets rattle. He has a welcome flair for epigrams. Discussing legal fees, Paris snarls, "We kill our food and eat what we kill." As an actor, under the direction of Barry Satchwell Smith, Kirkland starts at the top, playing an acerbic domineering aggressor but he leaves himself nowhere to go. There are colors in the character he's written that he hasn't yet filled in.

Amy Laxineta brings strength and intelligence to Karen. Here again, the first act performance of a woman confident in her sexuality who enjoys men's response to it seems inappropriate to the office situation where she declares her focus is her intelligence and professionalism. Supporting roles are well filled by Livingston as a puppy-doggish Daniel, whose final peroration to his client Paris shows that he's learned his cousin's lesson all too well. Steen brings an interesting intuitive quality to the judge and Phoebe McKenery Beacham makes her sympathetic legal secretary an awkward woman whose simplicity is a welcome antidote to the head-trippers.

Smith, in his directorial debut, has an instinct for pacing that serves the play well. There is room for more innovation in the characters Kirkland has written. Pete Santiago designed the serviceable set augmented by Lew Abramson's lighting.

Playwright: Dep Kirkland
Director/Producer: Barry Satchwell Smith
Cast: Dep Kirkland (John Paris), Amy Laxineta (Karen Lukoff), John Livingston (Daniel Burks), Jessica Steen (Cathryn Aldridge), Phoebe McKenery Beacham (Barbara Cooley)
Production Design: Pete Santiago
Lighting Design: Lew Abramson
Original Music: Deddy Tzur
Producers: Guy Zimmerman and Daniel Lynch Millner
Running Time: Two hours. One intermission
The Court Theatre, 722 North La Cienega Blvd., West Hollywood, ph: (323) 655-TKTS
May 18-June 16, 2002
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on May 18.
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