Counsellor-at-Law

  • Review by:
    Polly Wittenberg

    Review by Polly Wittenberg

    Elmer Rice�s 1931 play has a lot in common with �The Front Page�, Hecht and MacArthur�s vivid stage picture of life in a Chicago newsroom that debuted three years before �Counsellor-at-Law�. This time we have a vibrant re-creation of the world of a small ethnic (Jewish-Italian) midtown Manhattan law firm in an era when the difference between representing murderesses, floozies, or other assorted street life and what was considered �respectable� in the legal profession was even more pronounced that it is today.

    In George Simon, here wonderfully embodied by John Rubenstein, Rice created a �hero lawyer� (now an oxymoron) whose trials and tribulations will keep you on the edge of your seat for a thoroughly enjoyable three hours. Surrounding him are more than 20 other characters�mostly stock types but nonetheless entertaining�from receptionists, to messengers, to arrogant Harvard Law grad associates, to enemies from �white shoe� law firms, to snooty wives and priggish stepkids, to faithful super efficient secretaries and, last but definitely not least, to doting Jewish mothers. The way Rice manipulates all these characters through three acts and nine scenes, lets us in on their strengths and their weaknesses, and ties up all the loose ends before it is over, is almost a dictionary definition of the �well-made� play.

    Several years ago there was a spiffy revival of �The Front Page� at the National Theatre in London. The set was huge and all grey and black. There were many characters charging around the stage all through the show lending a real air of authenticity and excitement. On a smaller scale, this production of Rice�s play does the same thing. With its clever two-in-one set, sharp period costumes and the complete absorption by the entire cast of the appropriate intonations and style, Simon�s world comes glowingly to life.

    And a fine cast it is. In addition to Rubenstein, I�d single out Tara Sands, Lanie MacEwan, Beth Glover and Mary Carver for special praise. But, as produced by the Peccadillo Theater Company and directed by its Artistic Director Dan Wackerman, the whole crew is terrific.

    Don�t miss it.

    Polly Wittenberg