An Actor's Judicial Decisions: On Playing Scalia
Washington, D.C.-based stage actor Edward Gero has tackled a wide range of heavies in his career, from Shakespeare villains to Richard Nixon. But he says he's never felt theatregoers tense up the way they do when he plays famously conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in John Strand's The Originalist, currently running at 59E59 Theaters.
"You go into the theatre -- which is largely going to have liberal thinkers -- and you can feel the audience stiffening," he says. "The opening scene is a lecture Scalia is giving and we leave the house lights on a little. I can see people shaking their heads and cringing, so it is tough. But some people are leaning forward, too."
Gero has been starring in The Originalist since its world premiere at D.C.'s Arena Stage in 2015. At that time the controversial jurist was still alive, the Supreme Court was politically balanced and a Democratic president was in charge. Since then, all of that has changed: Scalia died in 2016, the same year President Trump was elected, and now the Supreme Court is poised to tip to the right, sparking worries that abortion and affirmative action rulings will be overturned.
"Those are the first two issues we talk about in the script," says Gero. "I said to Molly [Smith, the director] that I'm going to need a Kevlar vest when I say in the play, 'I think Roe v. Wade is on its deathbed and I hope and pray that it's overturned.' That puts people's backs against their seats. But that's part of what John's up to. We want to show that part of Scalia so we have a journey to go through in the play, which asks people to question their prejudices."