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MsTrial

Theatre Review by Howard Miller - December 4, 2019


Dep Kirkland
and Christine Evangelista

Photo by Jeremy Daniel
An office flirtation turns ugly in Dep Kirkland's MsTrial, opening tonight at New World Stages. There is no question that the subject matter of this reworked 2002 drama remains timely in light of our growing understanding of sexual assault. But having a strong idea for a play is a far cry from being able to translate it into compelling dramaturgy and authentic-seeming dialog. And that is definitely the problem here.

Kirkland himself stars as John Paris, a hotshot lawyer prosecuting a case on behalf of the family of a young girl who was killed in a train crash. He has assembled a team consisting of his relatively inexperienced nephew Dan (Alan Trinca) and an ambitious rising legal star named Karen (Christine Evangelista).

John, a know-it-all self-important boss type, is at the top, of course. Dan is there to learn the ropes while serving as John's errand boy and the butt of his not particularly funny, goading jokes. We are also told repeatedly that Dan is gay, if for no other reason than to prepare us for the impending flame-up between John and Karen. For her part, Karen has been brought on board in part because John believes that having a good looking woman attorney arguing the case in the courtroom will be one more factor in their favor. Not to mention the fact that he also is personally attracted to her. So there's that. All we need is a late night alcohol-fueled celebratory victory party, and the line is crossed.

Under Rick Andosca's direction, the frenetically paced but content-thin Act One clumsily sets the stage by combining bits of legal work with establishing the law firm's pecking order. It is only in Act Two, after Karen has filed rape charges against John, that the play takes on a modicum of complexity. The most interesting interactions take place in the district attorney's office during a "he said/she said" deposition scene in which Dan is representing John, and one of the DA's lawyers, Cathryn (Janie Brookshire), is representing Karen.

It is likely that the playwright's own prior experience as an assistant DA himself contributes to a degree of verisimilitude here, and it is interesting to see that any possible case against John is dependent almost solely on its winnability. If Karen is looking for a scintilla of empathy in that office, it will only come from Barbara (Gayle Samuels), the no-nonsense court reporter, who speaks quietly to Karen as she is packing up to leave. It's just a word or two, a singular #IBelieve moment, but it is perhaps the most emotionally honest moment in the entire play. That's too bad, because MsTrial raises some important questions; it just doesn't examine them with any depth or character-based credibility.


MsTrial
Currently on sale through March 1, 2020
New World Stages / Stage 5, 340 West 50th Street Between 8th and 9th Avenues, New York NY
Tickets online and current performance schedule: Telecharge.com


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