Washington Post drama writer Peter Marks reported Thursday that the Arena Stage company, known in recent years for putting on Kathleen Turner honoring a leftist in “Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins,” will stage the world premiere of a three-actor drama in which the main character is conservative Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia.
“The Originalist,” by D.C. playwright John Strand, is slated for its premiere on March 6, 2015, and will star Edward Gero , known for, among other roles, playing “Scrooge in Ford’s Theatre’s annual ‘A Christmas Carol’ — as the politically conservative justice.” Marks used the C-word for Scalia, but couldn't manage the L-words for Ivins.
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.
In interviews, 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.”
Strand added that these feelings Scalia arouses across the political spectrum made him an ideal focal point: “He has intrigued me for a long time because he’s kind of a lightning rod. Half the country thinks of him as a monster and half thinks of him as a hero. I love to explore why that is. And how can you resist a character who’s a brilliant jurist and also a showman at heart?”
Marks put it mildly when he summed up that “Building a play around an American figure of conservative values is a rarity in a theater world where the political messaging tends toward a liberal worldview.” But the Arena Stage folks hope Justice Scalia will check it out.