Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A More Perfect Union

[First published in Show Business Weekly.]

Photo/Carol Rosegg

“Oyez, oyez,” blurts the pre-show announcement: “Enjoy the arguments.” It’s a clever introduction to Vern Thiessen’s A More Perfect Union, a romantic comedy with a political agenda, for it allows Epic Theater Ensemble to deal with dirty little flaws of the Supreme Court while also entertaining the audience. Think of it as a toned-down version of Boston Legal, as polar opposites—the conservative Jewish woman from Cleveland, Maddie (Melissa Friedman) and the wealthy Black liberal from Georgia, James (Godfrey L. Simmons, Jr.)— come together, thanks to good chemistry and playful banter. Thanks also to Ron Russell’s rapid direction, which draws out the most of Thiessen’s paralleling gags and semantic charm: “Crazy,” he calls her. “Dedicated,” she says, amending him. Along those lines, these two law clerks aren’t fighting—they’re flirting.

It’s not all laughs, but the give-and-take between Simmons and Friedman—particularly when they role-play their Supreme Court bosses—holds us rapt even as they debate the ethical minutia of fictional Supreme Court “certs” (case submissions). The theatrical reality—every lean over a desk, crinkle of a wrapper, and slam of a book—keeps things so physical that we simply absorb the more thought-provoking ideas. It works the other way, too: the moral issues Thiessen explores are so engaging that we are willing to lose ourselves in Russell’s stagecraft. Bring on the choreographed transitions between scenes (or “articles”): swing holds plenty of sexual tension; indie rock is full of bipolar jumps in tempo. Whether you’re with James as he defends the circumstances behind a son murdering his father or with a pregnant Maddie as she files for the church’s non-discriminating right to fire an employee who has gotten an abortion, you’re at least listening.

There are plenty of big ideas thrown around, but the most important is the idea that there is no “wrong.” As one of the clerks says, “We all have our own box of crayons,” and our peers are the ones who will judge what passes as art. Now it’s time to judge A More Perfect Union: Thiessen has nothing to worry about.

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