Review of MsTrial at New World Stages
Dep Kirkland is the playwright, star and own worst enemy of MsTrial. Tasked with portraying a high-powered attorney who is not above committing a violent assault when tanked up on tequila, Kirkland underplays the part to mixed effect. And as playwright, this former trial attorney loads the script with legalese and misdirection in the first act, before unloading a devastating lesson on the misunderstanding and withholding of evidence in the second. Despite the play's punny title, this is no courtroom farce. It's a somber and uncomfortable look at the dangers of a sexually charged workplace which, in itself, explains why the play, last staged in 2002, comes seeking relevance in a winter run at New World Stages.
Kirkland has written primarily for film and television and there is a distinct "Law & Order" meets John Grisham vibe to his structuring of this work. He portrays John Paris, the head of a boutique law firm where he employs as associates his competent nephew Dan (Alan Trinca) and the attractive, whip-smart Karen (Christine Evangelista). The trio are deep into a case, representing a couple whose young daughter has been killed in a train accident. The opening scenes, full of tough talk and inappropriate banter amid narrative exposition, also spill out the details and strategy of the trial, generating a lot of data for the audience to process.
It turns out to be much more information than needed though, since Kirkland's real interest is in what comes next. Having won the case, the victory party winds into the early morning hours until Karen finds herself alone with John, in dangerous proximity to a sofa. The play then pivots to the party's aftermath, with Karen seeking legal recourse and raging against the "she asked for it" blame put upon her. John, in a stretch of credibility, employs Dan as his defense lawyer. Karen's lawyer, Cathryn (Janie Brookshire), knows not of what she speaks, leaving her client shattered. John will ultimately show remorse, but way too little and much too late.
John is such an alpha dog that he literally barks when he hits on Karen. Kirkland, with a hint of a Southern drawl and a determined emotional suppression, suffocates John's feelings, at least when playing sober. Dan, we are advised early and often, is gay. It's a character trait seemingly there only to be used as fodder for some questionable humor and a poorly advised bit of off-stage business where Karen tests his sexuality. Trinca aptly captures the frustration of a man caught in the middle of a mess. In the complicated role of Karen, Evangelista skillfully maneuvers the slippery and catastrophic slope that begins with a consensual kiss.
Directed at a languid pace by Rick Andosca, the actors' dialog is sometimes so riddled with pauses that a jury of their peers would find them guilty of involuntary line slaughter. Bill Clarke's scenic design offers a nicely appointed law office but it's laid out in such a way that the evening's biggest battle seems to be between Dan and his desk chair, always hopelessly turned in the wrong direction.
(Photo by Jeremy Daniel)
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