BWW Review: THE ORIGINALIST at Arena Stage – Back by Popular Demand and Thank Goodness

BWW Review: THE ORIGINALIST at Arena Stage – Back by Popular Demand and Thank Goodness

Play about the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is worth the visit.

How else can one describe actor Edward Gero's incredible performance as the late Supreme Court Justice Antonia Scalia other than a "tour de force" in the acclaimed play by John Strand and directed perfectly by Arena Stage Artistic Director Molly Smith.

This presentation is a co-production with the Asolo Repertory Theatre and The Pasadena Playhouse and is a reprise from the Arena Stage's successful original production in the Arena Stage's tiny 200 seat Kogod Cradle in 2015. Now it has moved to the much bigger Kreeger Theatre and I strongly believe it has the legs to make it to Broadway as other Arena Stage shows have like NEXT TO NORMAL, SWEAT, and DEAR EVAN HANSEN. It is that good!!

Do not get put off that the subject of the play is a conservative justice who opposed abortion rights, same-sex marriage, and affirmative action. You will learn much about Antonin Scalia from his hobby of shooting a rifle to his love of opera. And believe it or not there is much humor.

I was reminded of the Arena Stage production of ROE which occurred around the time of the latest women's march on Washington and the theatre was filled with theater goers who were proud backers of a woman's right to choose and expressed their feelings strongly during the play.

Here there is none of that. Whether or not you are a fan of the conservative point of view or not, you will love Gero's exceptional performance. It's amazing to watch him sway while in his black robe. They truly have a remarkable resemblance.

This is not a "one man show" about Scalia. We first get a glimpse of an outspoken attendee at a Federal Society meeting in Washington, DC where Scalia is speaking and she confronts his views quite strongly which Scalia seems to relish. This individual is named "Cat". Before you know it, Scalia hires her as an intern (each Justice only gets four) even though she is a flaming Black, liberal, gay, woman from Harvard Law School. He commented he liked the idea of a clerk who brought a different view of the issues of the day and you could not get two people with such opposing views.

Playing the role of "Cat" is Jade Wheller (so terrific in Everyman Theatre's RUINED) who nails the part. She is full of passion for topics she cares greatly and hopes she can convince Scalia to possibly change his positions (not a chance). He meanwhile hopes to change hers. It's very much like a boxing match between them and it is quite enjoyable to watch.

Brett Mack plays another Harvard Law School graduate law clerk "Brad" (even the name seems too pat) whose philosophy mirrors his boss. He seems to play the part well but I do wish his character was written so he wouldn't be so cartoonish. The interplay between the two law clerks is fun to watch.

But it's Gero who makes this play so memorable. He infuses his character with both heart and a desire to show how the Constitution should really be interpreted. He wants decisions to uphold the original intent of the framers of the Constitution (hence the play's title). He is passionate in his desire to get his point across but yet loves the colloquy with "Cat".

You will also learn how upset he was when he wasn't chosen to serve as Chief Justice

He does demonstrate his warm side when he shows real concern for Cat's ill parent.

The play was originally written when Scalia was still alive and I wonder if he saw it. Now that he has passed, there is a different feeling about it. In fact, there now is a law school named after him at the former George Mason School of Law now known as the Antonin Scalia Law School.

Finally, let me add I did get a chance to meet Scalia while I was in Sorrento, Italy. He was incredibly charming and we talked a little about my being an Administrative Judge with the EEOC. I even have a photo of the two of us on my desk. He suggested I send it to him for his autograph. Now I regret I never got around to it.

Coincidentally there is another play about a Supreme Court Justice opening this Saturday at the Olney Theatre Center entitled THURGOOD about Thurgood Marshall.

There are a number of post-show discussions including one with his close friend, Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg on Saturday night, July 22. After the Tuesday, July 25 performance, Lawrence Solum, a Georgetown Law School professor will join the playwright and Gero. Following the July 27 performance will feature a talk-back with a member of the Supreme Court Historical Society, Joe DiGangi, former Congressman Martin Frost along with the playwright and Gero.

THE ORIGINALIST continues until August 6, 2017. It runs only 100 minutes without an intermission. For tickets, call 202-488-3300 or visit www.arenasatage.org.


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From This Author Charles Shubow

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