“Justice” – Arizona Theatre Company

Theater Review – May 8, 2022

ATC’S “JUSTICE” TELLS OF THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE FIRST TWO FEMALE SUPREME COURT JUDGES

“JUSTICE”
Arizona Theatre Company, Center Stage, Herberger Theater Center
Phoenix, AZ

By Chris Curcio
Theater Critic

The musical “Justice” paints an insightful picture of the first two female Supreme Court justices, Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, as narrated by what playwright Lauren Gunderson sees as the first Black woman justice, a prophesy that has come true with the confirmation of Ketanji Brown Jackson.

“Justice” is receiving its world premiere by the Arizona Theatre Company.  It provides fascinating awareness not only to the political differences between the women but how they became great friends even though their variances should have kept them apart.

If there’s a problem with “Justice,” it is that Bree Lowdermilk’s undistinguished music and the bland Kait Kerrigan lyrics get in the way of the absorbing bonding between two opposites, liberal Ginsburg and conservative O’Connor.  The story would be better told without the music which clutters the details of the three women without providing any additional understandings about these characters.  The script soars without music when exploring little known details about the justices and their unique connection.  Although so different politically, the two women became fast friends and, in later years after O’Connor left the court, the pair still talked regularly and the deaths of their longtime husbands brought the women closer.

Audiences know the legal stands of the two judges and recent confirmation hearings tell us the unique qualifications of Jackson as she is soon to come on the Court without changing its conservative sway.

The production is a bit static with the two judges stationed stage left and stage right at desks while Vera is stage center.  Limited action keeps the performers in place and the show has been staged as a concert so the women read from scripts limiting emoting primarily to vocal inflections.  Removing their judicial robes signals to audiences we have left the court to learn personal tidbits about the justices and their bond.

While the three women portraying the characters are fine and create vivid characterizations Joan Ryan’s Ginsburg is better played as she can sing the songs well whereas Nancy Opel’s O’Connor is not a singer and struggles through the songs haltingly although she presents a full-rounded O’Connor if you ignore the songs.  Chanel Bragg stalwartly holds the show together as Vera, the soon to be first Black female Supreme Court judge. The unit set allows for projections suggesting different personal and professional aspects of the women’s lives.

“Justice” has much potential but needs a thorough rethinking to allow more action and a richer presentation of the two justices personal accomplishments and how they influenced their judicial opinions plus their unique relationship.  “Justice” should be a so much richer exploration of these judicial giants. “Justice” plays through May 22.  Order tickets online at www.atc.org. or call 1-833-ATC-SEAT.

Grade: B

 

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