Melissa Friedman and Godfrey L. Simmons Jr.
Canadian playwright Vern Thiessen clearly knows a thing or two about the US Supreme Court, but he knows rather less about US citizens.
His new play, A More Perfect Union purports to show how discussion and understanding can bridge the great divides of this country and the divides of her people.
This message is somewhat hampered by his depiction of America, a depiction that seems stuck somewhere around 1973.
The play concerns the relationship between two law clerks, Maddie, a white Jewish woman, and James, a black man, both of whom work for politically opposed factions.
There are some moments of interest. It was fascinating to learn how cases are chosen for inclusion in the Courts schedule. But once this explanation is complete, the play becomes leaden and horribly predictable.
Boy meets girl. They spar and banter for a while until eventually the relationship is consummated in the Supreme Court library despite the lack of demonstrable attraction between them.
Come the next scene and we are suddenly shunted forwards into 1960s ‘issue’ movie territory. Boy loses girl. Boy is angry, accused of plagiarism; girl is bitter and pregnant. The collapse of their mutual respect happens so swiftly that there are no moments where the characters actually relate to each other. The situation is merely an excuse to bounce arguments around. As a result, the audience is never given a chance to really empathize with these people.
The whole set up feels forced and artificial. The play then lurches into lecture mode and the characters are reduced to little more than mouthpieces. The audience is hit with wave after wave of dialogue about race, economic privilege and abortion.
The simplicity of their arguments are particularly infuriating. No two intelligent people would deliver the banalities that these two people do. It’s impossible to believe in them as Supreme Court clerks. The whole play has a dumbed down quality as if Thiessen assumes all Americans exist on a steady diet of Fox News, Jerry Springer and Project Runway and he has to talk down to them accordingly.
The actors, Melissa Friedman, as Maddie, and Godfrey L. Simmons Jr., as James, do an admirable job with what they are given, despite being too old to play law clerks fresh from college.
Friedman’s Maddie is an overcompensating workaholic with no outside life, trying to prove herself in the realm of men. James is charming, but less professionally dedicated (he is actually referred to as ‘lazy’). He spends all his time trying to get Maddie to show some interest in him, while simultaneously being offended that the other white clerks seem to dismiss him.
Despite the best efforts of the actors they never come off as anything more than sterotypes. In the end the play sinks itself, managing to be thin, glib and frustrating all at the same time.