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'Arguendo': Chair movement does not a performance make

Arguendo
Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company

Arguendo

Rating:
Star2
Star
Star
Star
Star

Arguendo,” the latest offering by DC’s Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, is an interesting attempt to make an entertaining mountain out of a mountain, but this attempt falls short…very short.

Directed by John Collins and performed by the Elevator Repair Service, “Arguendo” revolves around the 1991 Supreme Court Case, Barnes v. Glen Theatre Inc. This case, in a nutshell, was about whether or not one had the right to dance nude as a freedom of expression under the First Amendment. The case made its way through the various state courts before ending up on the Supreme Court docket.

Prior to “Arguendo’s” beginning, the stage is set with three leather chairs in the background. Then the play opens on the Supreme Courthouse steps with TV reporters (Mike Iveson, Vin Knight, Susie Sokol, Benn Williams) grilling a woman (Maggie Hoffman) who dances in the nude for a living. She’s come to observe the proceedings. The repartee is very well done as she gives as good as she gets.

The heart of the performance finally starts…the hearing itself. It’s not nearly as entertaining as was the action on the steps. We have the lawyers arguing before the judges…three actors are on stage taking the parts of the nine judges. There is a lot of changing of wigs and much movement of chairs. The chair interplay is funny at first as are the expressions of the actors, but then you are left thinking, “is that all there is?” Sadly, the answer is “yes.” Oh, they try to jazz things up with the actual case transcripts scrolling up/down/across a screen, but that just serves to give one a headache. There is shuffling and throwing of paper…hilarious…not. Then the performance jumps ahead in time for a speech from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Susie Sokol), portrayed as a doddering old woman, explaining the rationale behind the collars the female justices wear. In her defense, Justice Ginsburg may be many things, but doddering is not one of them.

Over the years I’ve had a variety of experiences at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre…most of them very positive or at least thought provoking. This is the first time I’ve ever been bored.