I’m reviewing Arguendo today at The American Interest, and explaining how this play about a Supreme Court case deciding whether stripping was First Amendment protected speech winds up painting SCOTUS in a romantic and heroic light.
The justices begin on a plinth that resembles the actual Supreme Court (set design by David Zinn), but shortly after the arguments begin, they send their wheeled chairs zooming down ramps to the main part of the stage. For the rest of the play they scoot around, confer, and advance menacingly on the lawyer, as suits their mood.
Each lawyer is barraged by the justices, physically and intellectually, as they raise wild-sounding hypotheticals to probe the logical consequences of each side’s view of the Constitution. The justices ask if the lawyer for the state (Ben Williams) whether it would make a difference if the go-go dancers weren’t being paid for their performances, or if they put a sign up on the stage saying “Nudity is very nice” and claimed the dance was meant as a practical proof, and whether the statute would also ban the nudity scripted into the Broadway musical Hair.
When the dancers’ lawyer (Mike Iveson) gets a turn, the justices press him on what, exactly, constitutes a dance. Could a car wash put nude women on display to drum up business, provided they occasionally did a few syncopated steps? If a dancer stabbed someone during her performance, but claimed the murder was part of the theme she was trying to express, would it really trigger First Amendment scrutiny?
The show is by the Elevator Repair Company, which took the text of the SCOTUS arguments (plus a few associated interviews) for the text of their play. It’s the same company that staged Gatz, an approximately seven hour production that used the entire text of The Great Gatsby, and which I also enjoyed very much.