November 1, 2013

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Professors to help bring Supreme Court case to life in play

Four professors at The Ohio State Moritz College of Law will play a role in an upcoming play at the Wexner Center for the Arts, but not as actors or directors.

When Arguendo, a play based off a 1991 U.S. Supreme Court case, comes to campus Nov. 14-17, the professors will participate in a talk-back session with the audience and director John Collins after the show to provide expert commentary on the legal drama that unfolded during the 80 minutes prior.

The play is about Barnes v. Glen Theatre, Inc., a case that challenged Indiana’s ban on nudity in public places on First Amendment grounds. Two adult entertainment businesses in South Bend, Ind., wanted to add nude dancing to their offerings, but state laws required dancers to wear “pasties” and g-strings, at a minimum. The question was whether the statute infringed on the dancers’ freedom of expression.

Much of the dialogue from the play is from the transcript of the actual oral argument before the Supreme Court, which the actors recite verbatim, but with some extra dramatic flair.

The play, which was co-commissioned by the Wexner Center, is performed by the theater ensemble Elevator Repair Service and started off-Broadway in New York City. Different speakers have participated in the talk-back sessions after each performance, including Supreme Court clerks, law professors, and even disc jockeys.

Associate Dean for Faculty Christopher M. Fairman, the Alumni Society Designated Professor of Law, led the discussion after one of the performances in the Big Apple. Though he won’t speak for a second time when the play comes to Columbus, he said he will definitely be in attendance to see it again.

“I would urge people to go see it,” he said. “I think anybody who is interested in the law generally would find it interesting, and certainly anyone who wants to be a practicing lawyer or has ever sort of wondered what oral arguments are like should see it to contrast it with what real arguments are like. Plus, for anyone who has interest in the arts, it deals with real burning questions in the art community about who gets to judge the value of art.”

Arguendo’s run at the Wexner Center includes five shows over four days. Catch Moritz professors in action during the talk-back sessions on the following dates:

  • Marc Spindelman, the Isadore and Ida Topper Professor of Law, on Nov. 14;
  • Assistant Professor Christopher J. Walker on Nov. 15;
  • Professor Emeritus David A. Goldberger on Nov. 16; and
  • Peter M. Shane, the Jacob E. Davis and Jacob E. Davis II Chair in Law, on Nov. 17.

The performance does contain nudity and is intended for mature audiences.

Fairman said he was most impressed with the play’s ability to make the actual text from an oral argument entertaining and captivating.

“It is highly dramatized because the dialogue is already set from what was said at oral argument. So the only way they can really make it interesting is with inflection, voice tone, staging, acting, and nudity, as it turns out,” he said.

Spindelman hasn’t seen the performance yet, but said he is looking forward to participating in the talk-back session. Art, he said, can be a useful way to look at the broader scope of the law.

“The artistic representation can capture and reveal facets of legal cases not readily seen by conventional legal perspectives,” he said. “As a result, the artistic representation can cast legal materials in new and helpfully illuminating light — even for lawyers, showing not only what views and values conventional legal perspectives reflect, but also what they leave out.”

Tickets for the show are $20 for the general public, $17 for members, and $10 for students. To buy tickets, visit the Wexner Center’s ticketing site.

Article by Michael Periatt.

SideBar is a monthly electronic newsletter for Moritz College of Law alumni. Questions regarding this publication should be directed to moritzlawnews@osu.edu.