A relevant exchange of ideas, ‘The Originalist’ is hope for civil discourse at The Pasadena Playhouse April 11 – May 7

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The time has come to examine civil discourse and invite the exchange of ideas and opinions without vilifying the opposition, and The Originalist at The Pasadena Playhouse, April 11 through May 7, takes a big step towards that purpose.

Jade Wheeler and Edward Gero in Asolo Rep’s production of “The Originalist.”
Photos by Gary W. Sweetman.

It is an important drama that follows a smart, liberal law school graduate who takes on a challenging clerkship with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, and discovers him to be both an infuriating sparring partner and a surprising mentor.

Written by D.C. playwright John Strand and directed by Molly Smith, the show stars the impressive four-time Helen Hayes Award-winner Edward Gero as Antonin Scalia, Jade Wheeler as the law clerk Cat and Brett Mack as Brad.

Gero described the play as being about the nature of our civil discourse and how to listen with respect. “It focuses on two politically disparate people, the conservative Justice Scalia, and the self-described ‘flaming liberal’ who is his clerk. It is the story of how it is possible to listen to each other with respect, even if we don’t agree politically. It challenges us to take ownership of our contribution to the state of civil discourse. We all complain about how badly we disagree but maybe we contribute to that by not listening.”

Jade Wheeler and Brett Mack in Asolo Rep’s production of “The Originalist.”

Gero believes the play has been so well received because of its relevance and because parties are so fractionalized – especially in Washington, where it was written and performed before Scalia’s death.

The late Supreme Court Justice was called an “originalist” because of his interpretation of the Constitution as it was originally enacted.

A professor of theatre at George Mason University, Gero said, “I think the audience comes with certain expectations about Antonin Scalia and they’re surprised at the fact that it didn’t matter if you agreed with him or not, just have a strong argument. And it’s not that ‘my idea is better than yours, or I’m better than you.’ It’s about coming up with the best idea together. The banter between Scalia and his clerk offers a lot of surprising comedy as they exchange ideas.”

Gero has been fortunate to play powerful characters during his career: a lot of Shakespeare roles, Nixon, Sweeney Todd, and Scrooge, among them. But as an Italian American from New Jersey, he especially relishes playing Justice Scalia. “The joy is inhabiting a man I had the opportunity to meet and call my friend. It was life altering to enjoy conversations with him, and go skeet shooting with him and his clerks,” Gero revealed. “He was a deeply spiritual man committed to something larger than himself. I’m proud to honor his legacy and through the play offer hope to Americans of all parties that democracy works. It’s a democracy, so of course we disagree, but we don’t have to vilify each other in the process.”

Provocative, dramatic and funny, “The Originalist” runs April 11 to May 7. The Pasadena Playhouse is located at 39 South El Molino Ave. in Pasadena. For tickets call (626) 356-7529 or visit PasadenaPlayhouse.org.

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