As I entered the Public Theatre for this Elevator Repair Service production, I was warned twice that the show was “80 minutes long with no intermission and includes full frontal nudity”.
“Sounds like a perfect date.”
May I just say that in neither case did this comment achieve the desired effect.
Later on I thought perhaps this was because these people had listened to this terrific cast reciting the overwhelming actual transcripts from a Supreme Court case in 1991 - Barnes v. Glen Theater – in which a ban on nudity in South Bend Indiana was challenged by a group of exotic dancers (one of whom performed in a book store). This is a show that, if nothing else, will chill you to the bone – because this is a language that is so frightening in its combination of elusiveness and specificity that all you can think of is what it is doing to the brains, never mind the hearts and spirits and even the bodies, of the individuals who are immersed in it on a daily basis.
This is verbal chess. Each of the Justices of the Supreme Court (with the exception of Thurgood Marshall who was listed as present but, according to this script, said nothing) bats the opposing lawyers about much like cats with mice.
What we see here is the rapid-fire exchange between the justices and the first attorney Mr. Uhl for the defense (a deft Ben Williams) followed by the attorney for the plaintiff Mr. Ennis (a persistent Mike Iveson). The actors switch characters so often that you lose sight of which person is performing and can only grab the characters – this is a nifty little bit of shell gaming. And when the evening builds to the unexpected crescendo of nudity (not who you expect) you are nearly ready to chop your own head off just to get them all to stop talking.
As I said – this is not because the actors are lacking - indeed they are engaging and polished. Vin Knight and Susie Sokol are excellent sparring partners for Williams and Iveson. And Maggie Hoffman as both a plaintiff and Court Aide seems to be everywhere at once. But the combo of the words spoken and words written – bravo to the special projections used here - comes close to sucking all the air out of the theatre.
In the end what Elevator Repair Service does is pull back the curtain from the Supreme Court, and all its components, revealing it to be The Great and Powerful Oz. Instead of them shouting to us not to pay attention, these folks are marinating in their own self-importance. They believe that what they are doing is of substance and import.
Whereas, to many of us, all this palaver comes across as:
"… a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing." Macbeth
Well done. Frank, frightening and assuming arguendo all around.
"While occasionally tedious in the viewing (even at 80 minutes), keeps growing richer and more insightful in the remembrance."
Ben Brantley for New York Times
"Once again director John Collins (director) and his troupe dramatize, often with brash humor, an unlikely text."
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post
"'Arguendo' is a tidbit – and not a very tasty one."
Robert Feldberg for The Record
"Just so much legal jabberwocky ."
Michael Sommers for Newsroom Jersey
External links to full reviews from popular press...