By John Strand; Directed by Molly Smith
Produced by Middle Finger Productions
Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 8.19.18
59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street
by Adrienne Urbanski on 7.28.18
Edward Gero and Tracy Ifeachor in The Originalist. Photo by Joan Marcus.
BOTTOM LINE: This timely and compelling play focuses on a fictionalized conflict between the late Antonin Scalia and a law clerk who challenges his conservative views.
During his time on the Supreme Court, Justice Antonin Scalia was a rather polarizing figure with staunchly conservative viewpoints. Some of his legal reasoning was due to the fact that he was an originalist, someone who does not see the Constitution as a "living" document, but rather one that is written in stone and must be interpreted the way it was originally intended in 1789. Therefore more contemporary issues, like same-sex marriage, must still be seen through the forefathers' original vision. Scalia (as played by Edward Gero) explains this philosophy in the opening speech of The Originalist, John Strand's new play about the late jurist.
Scalia's lecture to a law class is interrupted by a question from Cat (Tracy Ifeachor), a liberal-leaning woman of color who challenges his opposition to Roe v. Wade. This spirited student turns out to be interviewing for a clerkship at the Supreme Court. Cat is sure she has no chance of getting hired by Scalia, given her candor and her politics. However, Scalia takes her on, welcoming the opportunity to have a sparring partner. The two argue on such issues as gun control, and Scalia attempts to corrupt Cat's liberal worldview by taking her to a gun range where she learns to love shooting, despite her initial qualms. All of this builds up to the Court's ruling in United States v. Windsor, a case which led to the legalization of gay marriage in America. During all of her lively debates with Scalia, Cat keeps secret the fact that she is a lesbian. This secret leads her to push Scalia towards compassion even as he rules against same-sex marriage, wanting him to consider the people whose lives he is affecting.
Playwright Strand has crafted his characters well, having interviewed some of Scalia's former clerks (though not a real person, Cat is a composite of actual former law clerks, including one who kept private her lesbian identity); consequently, The Originalist feels authentic and its dialogue rings true. Gero and Ifeachor maximize the tension and humor in their well-staged debate scenes, and Gero is especially charismatic as Scalia, evoking empathy and a sense of humanity despite his hardline conservatism. Under the guidance of director Molly Smith, he maximizes the humor of the character, pushing the laugh potential in each wisecrack.
(The Originalist plays at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, through August 19, 2018. The running time is 1 hour 40 minutes with no intermission. Performances are Tuesdays through Fridays at 7; Saturdays at 2 and 7; and Sundays at 2 and 7. Tickets are $55 - $70 ($49 for 59E59 members) and are available at 59e59.org or by calling 212-279-4200.)
The Originalist is by John Strand. Directed by Molly Smith. Set Design by Misha Kachman. Lighting Design by Colin K. Bills. Sound Design by Eric Shimelonis. Stage Managers are Susan R. White and Hethyr (Red) Verhoef.
The cast is Edward Gero, Tracy Ifeachor, and Brett Mack.