Books, Federal Judges, SCOTUS, Supreme Court, Theater

Which Supreme Court Justice Is The Star Of A New Play?

SCOTUS: coming to a theater near you?

If you’re a legal geek who loves theater (I know I am), these are exciting times. Here in New York, you can check out a play in which a legal luminary’s daughter appears naked. Down in D.C. in a few weeks, you can attend Arguendo, the SCOTUS-themed play by Elevator Repair Service that’s being staged by the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. (I saw the play last year and enjoyed it.)

That’s not all. Also coming to Washington: a new play featuring a Supreme Court justice as its star….

Sure, Justice Clarence Thomas and Justice Sonia Sotomayor have the most compelling life stories, recounted in their two excellent memoirs (affiliate links). But those books focused on their pre-robescent rather than judicial careers.

For my money, the most interesting justice qua justice is the Honorable Antonin Scalia. He has the most well-developed judicial philosophy and the most colorful personality — a tough combination to beat.

If you disagree, well, consider the evidence. Justice Scalia is having a media moment right now. Earlier this month, “Scalia/Ginsburg” — the opera based on the clash between Justice Scalia and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a show that we’ve discussed before in these pages — received a reading by members of the Maryland Opera Studio. In June, a new biography of the justice will appear: Scalia: A Court of One (affiliate link), by Professor Bruce Allen Murphy.

And then there’s this, just reported by Peter Marks of the Washington Post:

For anyone who finds the persona of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia a little bit theatrical, Arena Stage thinks it’s found the perfect play. Next season, the company will stage the world premiere of a three-actor drama in which the main character is Scalia.

“The Originalist,” by D.C. playwright John Strand, is the rarest of theater pieces, one that looks to mine box-office gold in the life and work of an actual sitting Supreme Court justice. The play, scheduled to run in Arena’s Kogod Cradle starting March 6, 2015, will star Edward Gero, known for his classical roles at Shakespeare Theatre Company — and for playing Scrooge in Ford’s Theatre’s annual “A Christmas Carol” — as the politically conservative justice.

Edward Gero as Nino Scalia? I find no clear error in that casting:

So what’s the play about? The premise sounds promising:

Based in part on Scalia’s written opinions, the play, according to Strand, will pit the Justice in intellectual duels with a young, and fictionalized, Harvard-trained law clerk of more liberal leanings. Act 2 will focus heavily on the Supreme Court’s decision last year to strike down a key part of the controversial Defense of Marriage Act. Scalia cast a dissenting vote in the 5-4 ruling.

Those of us who follow SCOTUS clerk hiring closely — by the way, email me with any new hiring tips — know that Justice Scalia hasn’t hired a “counter-clerk” in a while. Over the years, he seems to have moved more into the Clarence Thomas camp (“I won’t hire clerks who have profound disagreements with me. It’s like trying to train a pig. It wastes your time, and it aggravates the pig.”). But we can understand why, for purposes of dramatic tension, playwright John Strand decided to give Justice Scalia a liberal law clerk.

Given the leftward tilt of most of the theater community, some might expect this play to be a dramatic takedown of a conservative icon. But it doesn’t sound like that’s the intention of the creative team:

In interviews, both Strand and Arena’s artistic director Molly Smith, who will direct “The Originalist,” said this account is not so much intended as a critical reckoning of Scalia as an opportunity to delve into the condition of political discourse in this country and why deep divisions on issues have become so fraught with anger and bitterness.

“Because we’ve become so polarized politically, I think that that’s part of where we’re going with this character in the play,” Strand said. “Is there a middle ground anymore, and how do you get there? If we’re going to see the person on the other side only as a monster then there will never be a middle, a compromise.”

This implies that Justice Scalia is not depicted as a monster in the play. In fact, it seems that John Strand has affection for his subject. As Strand tells the Post, “How can you resist a character who’s a brilliant jurist and also a showman at heart?”

How indeed? I definitely plan to check out this show when it comes out in 2015. In the meantime, you can learn more about the play at the Arena Stage website.

Coming to a theater near you: Scalia! The play! [Washington Post]
Scalia: A Court of One [Amazon (affiliate link)]
The Originalist [Arena Stage]
Arguendo [Woolly Mammoth]
Maryland Opera Studio to give reading of ‘Scalia/Ginsburg’ opera by Baltimore native [Baltimore Sun]

Earlier: Legal Luminary’s Daughter Appears Naked
A Law School Graduate Who Makes Beautiful Music
Phantoms Of The Opera? No, It’s Just Scalia And Ginsburg

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