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THEATER REVIEW The Originalist
by Catey Sullivan

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At: Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis Ave.

Tickets: $44-$74;; 773-753-4472. Runs through: June 10

Here are are some facts about the late Supreme Court Justice Anthony Scalia, the conservative judge at the epicenter of John Strand's play The Originalist. Scalia died in 2016, after nearly 30 years on the Supreme Court bench.


—He wanted to make make gay marriage illegal.

—He wanted to overturn Roe v. Wade.

—He advocated for open carry.

—He wanted to end affirmative action.

—He wanted to reinstate capital punishment for juvenile criminals.

—He was on record as insisting that "liberals" make decisions based solely on their emotions.

Here is what playwright John Strand's The Originalist is: a 90-minute apologia for a man who would like to strip basic human rights from every last member of the LGBTQIA community and half the population of the United States ( women ).

Strand makes Scalia a gruff, grandfatherly type—the kind of relative you shake your head at at Thanksgiving because he's just so out there. Out there is one thing when you're a private citizen. When you are in a position of supreme power? It's very sinister.

Here's how Scalia defined an "originalist," the label he claimed for himself:

"The Constitution that I interpret and apply is not living but dead, or as I prefer to call it, enduring. It means today not what current society, much less the court, thinks it ought to mean, but what it meant when it was adopted."

But as Scalia's voluminous decisions make clear, Scalia was only an "originalist" when it suits his beliefs.

Take the right to privacy for example. Scalia's writings showed a man who believed fiercely in the right to privacy—except if you were a woman who wants an abortion or a same-sex couple who wanted to wed. Then—as with so many other issues—he was fine with the government being all up in your business.

Then there's this: If you are an originalist, you are fine with slavery. Most of the Constitution was written in the 18th century, when almost all African-Americans in the United States were slaves without rights. If you are an originalist, you see nothing wrong with adhering to that barbaric status quo. Ditto women's suffrage.

Scalia would have been a great Supreme Court justice—at any time before 1776.

As Scalia, Edward Gero matches wits with his clerk, Cat ( Jade Wheeler ), an African-American woman who ferociously questions him on his beliefs. We are to belive that Cat comes to both respect and like her boss—a man who purported to uphold a Constitution wherein slavery is not expressly prohibited.

I was rolling my eyes within five minutes of The Originalist. At 40 minutes, I was ready to walk out. At curtain call, I was mentally going through my medicine cabinat to see if I had any good Sativa left.

Directed by Molly Smith, the cast in this three-person show is fine. They'll hold your attention. They breathe life into their characters. But make no mistake: You are watching the worst kind of revisionist history. Scalia was not the bloviating uncle who everybody tries ignores at the barbecue. He was a dangerous bigot.

I'm calling bull on this show—especially now, when the rights of women and gays and minorities are being rolled back seemingly every damn day. Spending once minute with a man who would strip you of your personhood would be annoying. At 90 minutes, it's gaslighting.


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