by Molly Smith, Artistic Director
About two years ago, John Strand came into my office with a tantalizing idea for a new play. He wanted to write a play about one of the most polarizing and gregarious figures in America today—Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia—with Edward Gero as the Justice. When the hair goes up on the back of my neck, I know it’s a good idea.
I have a keen interest in politics. I have a keen interest in theater. We are situated in Washington, D.C., the most important city in the world for politics, in a theater with a mission around American plays, artists and ideas. I have always wondered why D.C. is such an invisible theater city. We’re home to over 80 theaters. We operate in one of the most galvanizing cities in the country—we produce a lot of work. And yet, we operate in the shadow of the museums as far as the arts go, but we are always in the eye of one political storm or another. I watch the President’s helicopter in tandem with two other helicopters fly past my window down the historic Potomac at least once a week. I think recognition as a great theater town will only happen when we are producing plays that focus on the politics of the city, in the language of the city.
John Strand, Arena’s resident playwright, has written a play I believe will have a healthy and exciting life in the theater—because we are hungry to hear these stories. He is a writer who understands the political heart of the city and has the intellectual heft to show us the way. The joy of working on a D.C. story is that all the raw material is at our fingertips. Still, this is for the stage—some of the writings are from Justice Scalia and the rest is from John’s imagination. This is historical fiction.
John’s play has everything—the red meat of politics, legacy, power and how one deals with it, some of the most important Supreme Court cases of our time, an intimate look into the workings of the Supreme Court through the mind of one Justice, a fiery battle for the soul and the heart of “the other” and whether a “middle” in today’s political landscape is possible.
From the beginning, this play begged to be produced in the Kogod Cradle. With its warm wood and enveloping arms, it’s the perfect home for a play about a Justice’s inner sanctum. Since it’s a boxing match, this will be the first play that cracks the configuration of the Kogod from a proscenium to a deep thrust; now you, our audience, can be part of the fight.