September 28, 2013

"Arguendo" — a play with the text lifted from a Supreme Court oral argument about free speech and nude dancing.

At the Public Theater until the end of October. From a review in NY Magazine by Scott Brown (presumably not the political dreamboat Scott Brown)(links added by me):
In 80 dizzy minutes of towering, tottering legalese, hilariously atrocious wigs and highly athletic swivel-chair-ballet, five performer-creators... do the seemingly impossible: They make the Rehnquist Court feel as intellectually rigorous as The Muppet Show. (And I mean that flatteringly, with respect to The Muppet Show.)...

Guided by conceiver-director John Collins and aided by the endlessly creative video projections... the ensemble teases out the muffled passions and inarticulable absurdities throbbing beneath the intellectual chessmatch of [Barnes v. Glen Theatre Inc.]—is this an obscenity case? Is dance really “expression”? “Why do they call this place a ‘bookstore’?”—and crystallize the justices as characters without resorting to direct caricature.... The black-robed sages literally circle Indiana Attorney General Uhl (played by Williams and Knight) and respondent attorney Ennis (Iveson), swooping down like vultures one minute, creeping up like Skeksis the next, depending on the line of attack.... The whole nature of expression is called into question in the uninhibited finale, where briefs of all sorts go flying.... The show’s ultimate thrust is a bit of a feint, but the legal term “arguendo” translates colloquially to “for the sake of argument,” not “to conclude definitively and forcefully.”... [A]s a friend of mine used to say, “to reach a conclusion is to limit the potential of argument.” 
That review could use a rewrite. Maximum sexual innuendo or children's puppet show analogy: Pick one.

From the NY Post review of the play: 
Since the case revolves the issue of defining nude dancing as a means of communication, Collins seems to extend the discussion to the idea of theater itself. Can you turn any document into a play, even a law case? Can actors jumping and yelling seemingly randomly qualify as a show, and does nudity make that much of a difference?

Lo and behold, [the actor playing the lawyer for the strip club] strips to a golden thong, black socks and dress shoes. Then he takes off the thong.
He takes takes off his underpants to nail the argument.

HuffPo has a lawprof's cogitations. It's Michael Meltsner, who uses Barnes in his teaching of oral advocacy (and who wrote a book called "Race, Rape, and Injustice: Documenting and Challenging Death Penalty Cases in the Civil Rights Era").
Alas, while the production presents the legal arguments of two knowledgeable advocates, it is replete with jargon and enough insider's free expression law that even many lawyers in the audience were grabbing smart phones to do some instant Googling. Collins has chosen neither to dignify the ideas expressed by the lawyers nor use them as a take off point for a serious exploration of a culture that debates at the highest levels the constitutional value of public nudity before consenting adults.

That would all by perfectly ok if the result was really funny but too often the text has been saddled by distracting black robbed justices swivel chairing around the stage, enough voices overriding voices to suggest a confusing Tower of Babel in what for all its faults is a process that in the real world aims at clarity and a chaotic display of less than beautiful frontal nudity.
Ooh. Ow.

I hope you like the link I did — up there in the first indented block of text — on "briefs of all sorts go flying." That was the most literally apt image from a Google search on "flying underpants." But something urges me to show you this too:



What is Sting saying via flight-themed underpants? The eloquence of his expression escapes the banks of chaos in my mind.
Poets, priests and politicians
And lawyers and judges...
Have words to thank for their positions
Words that scream for your submission
And no one's jamming their transmission
'Cos when their eloquence escapes you
Their logic ties you up and rapes you 
When words tie you up and rape you, say it with — or without — underpants. Sing a song. Sting a thong.

6 comments:

chrisnavin.com said...

Who knows, maybe there's a John Wilkes Booth type in that little troupe?

Sam's Hideout said...

This brought to mind "Charlie Victor Romeo", a play where the dialog is taken verbatim from the cockpit voice recorder of airplane crashes, but done realistically and with respect.

William said...

It's difficult to understand why people would waste their time on Breaking Bad when such entertainment is available. Disrobing is the bluntest form of dissing the robes.

Henry said...

Who knows what they could do with chickens?

furious_a said...


...but mostly nude dancing.

furious_a said...

free speech and nude dancing.

...but mostly nude dancing.