Who knew Supreme Court justices have such complicated, libidinous inner lives? Anthony Kennedy muses on adults-only car washes. Sandra Day O’Connor contemplates pornographic videos. Antonin Scalia obsesses over nude opera. These racy reveries appear in Arguendo, a verbatim theater piece from Elevator Repair Service at the Public Theater.
As in the celebrated Gatz, a seven-hour epic that included every word of The Great Gatsby, the troupe again stages a text in its entirety: the oral arguments of a 1991 First Amendment case centered on a statute requiring exotic dancers to wear G-strings. The court had to decide whether such dance constitutes expressive speech or merely lewdness for profit.
This is a cheeky subject for any theater company working to reconcile art and ticket sales. The arguments presented by the five-member cast are funny, weird, and deeply dull, so director John Collins gooses the action with swivel-chair dance routines and an eye-searing striptease, while designer Ben Rubin’s projections take a dizzyingly kinetic approach to precedent. If this piece lacks the sneaky pathos of ERS’s best work, it has a naughty charm, happy to reduce the highest court in the land to a series of dirty jokes.