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The Originalist – Arena Stage

Jordan Wright
April 13, 2015
Special to DC Metro Theater Arts 

Edward Gero as Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in The Originalist.  Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Edward Gero as Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in The Originalist. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

The controversial Supreme Court Justice, Antonin Scalia, comes to life in the hilariously acerbic The Originalist at Arena Stage.  The much-acclaimed world premiere has just been extended for the second time and will continue until May 3rd resuming again on May 19th and running through May 31st.   I give you this latest news upfront so that you can grab your tickets now.  This is a can’t miss tour de force starring consummate actor Ed Gero as Scalia supported by Kerry Warren as Cat, Scalia’s liberal law clerk, and Harlan Work as Brad, Cat’s opposite, a young member of The Federalist Society and Scalia’s Sycophant-in-Chief.

(L to R) Edward Gero as Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Harlan Work as Brad and Kerry Warren as Cat in The Originalist. Photo by C. Stanley Photograph

(L to R) Edward Gero as Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Harlan Work as Brad and Kerry Warren as Cat in The Originalist. Photo by C. Stanley Photograph

As the Court’s notably right-wing curmudgeon, Scalia has won friends in many circles with his humor and charm (you can’t be all bad and still have über liberal Ruth Bader Ginsburg as a ‘bestie’), and John Strand (Arena Stage’s Resident Playwright) takes full advantage of that dichotomy, bringing it to life through historical quotes overlaid with the playwright’s imaginings of how Scalia crafts his opinions.  It is one of the most thrilling pieces of theatre I have ever seen.

Strand uses the impending and long-awaited Supreme Court’s decision on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as the centerpiece for the characters’ legal arguments, using the device to pit Scalia’s philosophies against Cat’s vehement opposition.  It’s tremendously irresistible to anyone interested in law, the Justices, or the Court’s nation-altering decisions.  (I sat next to a female attorney who had taken Scalia’s Contract Law class at the University of Chicago and proclaimed him feisty, yet humorous, even back then.)

(L to R) Kerry Warren as Cat and Edward Gero as Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in The Originalist.  Photo by C. Stanley

(L to R) Kerry Warren as Cat and Edward Gero as Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in The Originalist. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Accompanied by interstices of grandiose operatic arias (Scalia is a known opera buff), he delivers arguments and pronouncements like bullets on a battlefield, but so does his verbal sparring partner, Cat, an equally combative Harvard Law grad determined to change his mind.  “I dissent!” is the most oft repeated line from the man who once had acting aspirations.  He later confesses, “The court is my theatre.  I am not an ideologue.  I am an originalist!”  In explaining his reason for hiring her he reveals, “Every now and then I like to have a liberal around.  It reminds of how right I am.”  Cat, who views the court as a “fantasy palace”, is determined to change his dogmatic ways.  She seeks his heart, while he wants her soul. “You’re stuck alone in your bunker.  Your constitution is just a shield you hide behind,” she parries, defining his brand of government a “monsterocracy”.

Gero is magnificent.  His comedic timing and arrogant swagger are nothing less than breathtaking and perfectly counterbalanced by the supremely talented Kerry Warren.  So riveting is their sparring on gun rights, gay marriage and the constitution, that if there was one soul in the audience who didn’t hear the proverbial pin drop, it didn’t.  (Speaking of sparring, boxing terms are used so frequently I wondered if it they’re something the Justice is known for.)

 at the Mead Center for American Theater. The Originalist runs March 6-April 26, 2015. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

The set of The Originalist designed by Misha Kachman in the Arlene and Robert Kogod Cradle at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater. The Originalist runs March 6-April 26, 2015. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Setting the tone and highlighting the majesty and gravity of the Court and its private chambers, Lighting Designer Colin K. Bills gives us two massive crystal chandeliers in order to appropriately frame the pronouncements from Scalia’s Kingly Court of Conservatism.  Set Designer Mischa Kachman adds floor-to-ceiling red velvet drapes trimmed with golden tassels: lest you forget the import of where you are.

Highly recommended.

See above for new dates.  Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St., SE, Washington, DC 20024.  For tickets and information call 202 488-3300 or visit www.ArenaStage.org.

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