As the lights dim slightly in the beautiful Pasadena Playhouse, Edward Gero as Antonin Scalia, comes walking forward in full Supreme Court robe as Opera plays to address us directly. The Opera is a nod to the man’s love of Opera but both his supporters and detractors could certainly call him an operatic figure in American politics. Eventually we see that we are in a lecture hall during one of Scalia’s college speeches where he continues to be challenged by a liberal law student who turns out to be interviewing for a clerkship with him.
From minute one of this relationship, we know we are in for some crackling, intellectually stimulating debate that is sure to challenge us. And challenge us it does. From Scalia’s Catholic faith, immigrant background, love of guns and opera to his deep affection for his polar opposite on the court, Ruth Bader-Ginsberg, Antonin Scalia is a study in dichotomies that both frustrate and fascinate his liberal law clerk. For her part, she realizes quickly that they have much in common. So why are they seemingly so far apart? She is determined to crack that code and he is determined to influence her and teach her to “land a punch” and to literally shoot a gun.
I had in my head the story of how Ginsberg sent Gero a note after seeing the play expressing how he perfectly captured the essence of her dear friend. High praise indeed. Gero’s performance is so nuanced and so natural that I felt as though I was a fly on the wall in his chambers just watching these conversations unfold. He is powerful and persuasive and surprisingly witty. Which makes his more human moments all the more poignant.
Jade Wheeler is the idealistic recent law grad, full of fire and passion. Her performance is a perfect counterbalance to Gero, as she is all energy and precision, her questions hitting him like rapid-fire bullets from an automatic rifle. The actors have great chemistry together including the only other actor to appear on stage with them, Brett Mack, as Brad, a former conservative classmate of hers who is brought on to help with a case. He seethes with envy over Cat’s position as he tries to undermine her with Scalia. Mack portrays Brad with just the right amount of white privilege, rage and determination which makes the trio exceedingly interesting to watch.
Written by John Strand and deftly directed by Molly Smith, the play is ultimately hopeful in that it posits that we can indeed care for one another, listen to one another, while still staying true to our core beliefs.
“The Originalist” is performed without intermission and runs through May 7 at Pasadena Playhouse 39 South El Molino Avenue, Pasadena 91101. For tickets and information call (626) 356-7529 online at PasadenaPlayhouse.org or at The Pasadena Playhouse Box Office.
Photos by Jim Cox