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The Originalist
Photo by Joan Marcus

I’m ashamed to admit this, much less post in on the internet. Yet it drives home a crucial point and I’m a critic who isn’t shy on voicing his opinion.  When news of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s death emerged in February 2016, I felt a little gleeful.  To many progressive thinkers, he represented archaic, stubborn thought who wielded his power against marginalized communities. I shared the same sentiment as NY Times columnist Maureen Dowd, who wrote in a 2003 opinion piece, “Antonin Scalia is Archie Bunker in a high-backed chair. Like Archie, Nino is the last one to realize that his tolerance is risibly out of date.”

Like any prominent figure who passes away, numerous articles appeared and I quickly learned of the warm friendship that Scalia nurtured with his colleague, Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Yes. The same liberal Supreme Court justice who stood on the complete opposite ideological spectrum as Scalia was also his friend.  The two shared a love of opera and shared New Year’s Eve dinner together on an annual basis.

I felt ashamed of my glee. Somehow, a part of my humanity had been compromised.

Photo by Joan Marcus

Truth be told, the humanity of our nation has been compromised. So the arrival of John Strand’s The Originalist at 59E59 Theaters is a much welcome antidote to the decayed discourse that has high jacked relationships since our last Presidential election.

Strand’s three-hander stars Edward Gero in the title role. “Anybody need a definition?” he asks early in the 90-minute play.  “Originalism: to interpret the Constitution as it is written and as it was understood when its authors crafted the original document. As simple as that.”

Only it isn’t as simple as that—at least from the point of view of Cat (Tracy Ifeachor), a self-described, “flaming” liberal who becomes Scalia’s law clerk. That Cat is black and gay further adds to the dramatic tension.

Within moments of the set-up, it’s easy to see the predictable arc. By the end, they both will have taught each other valuable life lessons.  Still, it doesn’t hurt—especially now—to be reminded that we actually can converse with and embrace one another in spite of profound philosophical differences.

Brett Mack rounds out the cast as Brad, a diehard Republican and Cat’s former classmate who assists in the research with Cat.

Photo by Joan Marcus.

Strand’s script is carefully and sensitively written but never veers into the saccharine category. This trio is on fire, but ultimately it is Gero who looms larger than life over the proceedings. Strand wrote the part for him and one can tell that he relishes the role. He’s a mightily impressive DC-based actor, but if Washington isn’t careful, New York might claim him as their own!

The Originalist takes place in 2012-2013, but the polarizing climate it depicts could well be set in current times. We will always have divisive figures, but if we’re wise, we’ll learn how to civilly and respectfully disagree.  Strand understands that. We should follow his lead.

The Originalist runs now through August 19th at 59E59 Theaters . (59th Street between Park and Madison.) For tickets and more information, click here.