Naima Dawson is a published author, Chicago playwright, and professor. Her career accomplishments cover more than 20 years in Arts Entertainment. Her Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Columbia College Chicago and her Master of Education from DePaul University solidifies her ability to bridge the two worlds between Arts and Education. She is the writer and producer of Your Call! Late Night Improv & Sketch Comedy for Grown Folks, as seen in production at the Apollo Theater and The Mercury Theater.
Pictured: Edward Gero and Jade Wheeler. Photo by Gary W Sweetman.
By Naima Dawson
Appropriately resurrected during a time of ongoing political tensions in the United States and heightened acts of bigotry, Court Theatre concludes its 63rd season with THE ORIGINALIST, written by John Strand and directed by Molly Smith. And while we are living in a time that devalues the very essence of Lady Liberty and all that she represents, Strand delivers a think piece that pushes people to consider standing on a middle ground, where we acknowledge diverse voices and ideas, even if we do not always agree with them.
THE ORIGINALIST covers the work of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia (Edward Gero), a man who stood firm in the law and remained true to the original authorship of the United States Constitution. Scalia was an originalist. Originalism is based in the philosophy that the constitutional text ought to be interpreted according to the original public meaning that it would have had at the time that it became law. The ideology of an originalist gives little concession to profound changes in popular views and lends even less concern to morality.
As one could imagine, the rather frank and very colorful Scalia attracted less than favorable admiration by liberals, yet many conservatives admired him for adhering to his radical views.
This cast of three builds a compelling and brilliant story that humanizes Justice Scalia. It works to give a heart to a man many saw as heartless and counterproductive to the American judicial system. Edward Gero effortlessly walks into Scalia’s larger-than-life-and self-centered personality. He gives us an impenetrable man grounded in his religious faith and intolerant of change. Without question, Gero’s delivery makes us yearn for reasons to be impartial to Scalia’s philosophies while knowing that the real Scalia would never afford us the same consideration. Gero’s sarcastic wit commands the audience’s attention from the moment he graces the stage to the very end. His performance leads us to believe that we encountered a slightly more compassionate Scalia than the original.
As a foil for Scalia’s hard demeanor, the audience is introduced to Cat (Jade Wheeler), an optimistic Harvard Law graduate looking to work for the justice as a law clerk. She is an African American intellectual lesbian that’s wanting the American judicial system to show greater consideration for a forever changing world. Cat becomes a sparring partner for Scalia, keeping him abreast of the conceptions of the liberals. He underestimates her determination, however, as Wheeler gives us a youthful thinker in Cat who is unwilling to give up on the hope that people from different schools of thought can find a middle ground in the law.
Cat is challenged by a conservative law clerk, Brad (Brett Mack) who is assigned to assist her in preparing Justice Scalia’s dissent. Mack composes an overzealous racist who is more than open with his prejudice. It is quite easy to dislike Brad within seconds of him opening his mouth.
Scalia and Cat dutifully rely on one another in some strange fashion. One is looking for faith, and the other is looking for a heart. The minimalist set by Misha Kachman makes the audience focus on the writing. This play purposely motivates us to examine every word spoken.
In the play, Scalia recognizes he belongs to the polarizing dark side of politics. In reality, Antonin Scalia was one of four Supreme Court Justices that never hired a black law clerk. In reality, he didn’t believe in affirmative action and tried his best overturn Roe v. Wade.
We must find a point where we can listen with reason to the other side so that we can engage in fruitful dialogue that genuinely brings forth change in our country. I believe people will find inspiring hope in THE ORIGINALIST because it romanticizes the possibilities of what we could become if we work together to find common ground.
THE ORIGINALIST runs through June 10th. For more information visit CourtTheatre.org.