Sunday, November 9, 2014

Arguendo (Review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Given I live in Los Angeles, and left New York City in 1989, the founding of Elevator Repair Service passed me by. Now, thanks to the Redcat Theatre that omission stands corrected. To my great good fortune I had the opportunity to see Arguendo, which manages to turn a subject matter generally about as dry as the arid steppe of your choice into a delightful yet accurate depiction of our legal system.

Arguendo itself translates from Latin as "for the sake of argument." It follows, pretty much word for word, a legal case before the Rehnquist Supreme Court in 1991, Barnes v. Glen Theatre. In the loosest possible terms, the case involved whether an Indiana law banning public nudity applied to nude dancers, who at least in theory are expressing themselves artistically and therefore might be viewed as falling under first amendment protection. Other than the titillation factor, it sounds pretty dry doesn't it? Honestly, one walks in expecting the focus upon relationships between counsels or between Justices to be the focus.

But, no. Delightfully, theatrically, emphatically--no.

Instead we get the events, presented at least somewhat realistically, albeit with wit and an very clever sense of staging. The focus never really settles upon the characters so much as the legal process and arguments--the latter ultimately rendered very understandable to folks with no real legal training such as yours truly. This process itself becomes ever more fascinating and entertaining, not least because it becomes ever more surreal yet on-target. No small feat! Quite literally the ideas shape how the show throws every single telling detail into sharp relief. Attorneys for the plaintiff and defendant move with a podium on wheels, even as the Justices approach, encircle, back off, turn away, pace and more via their own wheeled chairs. More, this conceit intensifies as the seventy-minute show proceeds. At any one time, three or four actors portray all nine Justices, for example. Legal papers become props in a seeming clown show. In a legal case about strippers, small wonder somebody starts taking off their clothes, while the actions in (and by) the court turn into something between a dance and a rave!

My reaction? The same as the rest of the audience. Utter glee! Yet not just because of the silliness, though wonderfully silly it became. Rather at how the silliness remained a comment on the whole process, without taking much side in the actual legal case. Amid the laughter and grins, what Arguendo managed was to change our perception altogether. What could be more perfectly defining of Art?

At the end, the world of the play returned to what we might as well call "normal" with a simple humorous anecdote about Rehnquist and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Yet  we don't see it that way. Rather we see this tiny, even human event as the tip of an absurdist iceberg which governs our lives. Bravo.

One hardly even feels surprised when the U.S. Constitution joins the cast to take a bow...

Arguendo plays Sunday at 3pm at the Redcat Theatre, 631 West 2nd Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012. You can make reservations at (213) 237-2800. If you have a chance to see this show, either here or elsewhere (check out the group's website above) I strongly recommend you do so.

No comments: