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A CurtainUp DC Review
This brings both sides of such arguments as Roe v. Wade, affirmative action, and many other Supreme Court cases, and liberal ideologies into play. The juxtaposition makes for good dialogue and engaging theater . . . up to a point.
After much back and forth, about half way through the 1 hour and 45 minute piece, the dialogue, the debate, takes on the subject of the Defense of Marriage Act. And there's no letting it go. From then on, the subject is the right of gays and lesbians to same sex marriage. The same arguments are made repeatedly and although both sides are cogent no one, particularly the arch-conservative religious Roman Catholic Justice Scalia, is about to change his or her mind.
Actor Ed Gero, who bears a striking physical resemblance to Justice Scalia, gives a superbly convincing performance. The play is his, just as Red, the story of Mark Rothko, was a few seasons back, (ignored by the Helen Hayes Awards for that stellar performance; let's hope the Helen Hayes Awards judges who failed to honor that portrayal and honor this one). Gero is so forceful and so convincing in laying out Justice Scalia's positions that even an arch-liberal stops to think and possibly re-assess his/her position on some of the most heated arguments of the last few decades.
Brad, the blond, ambitious, conservative who wants nothing more than to be Justice Scalia's favorite clerk is not much more than a cipher. Harlan Work makes the most of this basically symbolic part. Kerry Warren is excellent as Cat, the uber-liberal who is determined to a) be the Justice's law clerk and b) make him see what she represents.
Misha Kachman's set design, complemented by Colin K. Bills's lighting, is flexible enough to offer grandeur where needed and simplicity when that is called for.
Where The Originalist loses momentum is when Brad starts a food fight with Cat. The scene is totally unnecessary, a director's self-indulgence — the idealistic conservative and the idealistic liberal cannot stand one another, we get it.
Another scene in which suspension of disbelief is called for is when the Justice teaches his liberal law clerk how to shoot a powerful rifle. The scene sets up a good one-liner but it is superfluous nonetheless. Perhaps the intention by the author and/or Director Molly Smith was to lighten the piece; instead it demeans a serious play that looks behind ideologies to bring out the humanity in its characters.
Whether audiences in cities other than Washington which has more than 50,000 lawyers and an incalculable number of wonks, will have the sitzfleisch for 105 minutes of dueling ideologies remains to be seen. But Arena's production, though too long, is well worth seeing.