Playwright John Strand’s “The Originalist,” playing now through April 26 at Arena Stage, is theater unequivocally of Washington, by Washington, for Washington… to borrow President Lincoln’s famous expression.
Set in and around the nation’s capital in 2012 and 2013, the play centers around divisive and controversial Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia (brilliantly played by four-time Helen Hayes Award winner Edward Gero) as he broods over and prepares his dissenting opinion in United States v. Windsor— the landmark case that struck down section three of the Defense of Marriage Act.
But he’s not brooding and drafting alone. His spunky new law clerk– self-described “flaming liberal” and Harvard Law graduate Cat (performed by Arena Stage newcomer Kerry Warren)– is determined to, if not move Justice Scalia on policy issues, understand and learn from this puzzling “monster” of a man who has made the US Constitution into a veritable monument. While she wonders if he has a heart; and he wonders if her soul will be saved; the audience finds itself (unusually) rooting for both sides of the aisle on this one.
Smart, funny, moving, and profound, anyone who’s been in DC (or watched its political theatrics) for even the briefest time can find something to love in this production.