Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
The man and his life are so interesting that even if the play is formulaic at times the audience gets swept along as we learn about Kunstler's work with the Freedom Riders, the Chicago Eight (later reduced to The Chicago Seven), the prisoners responsible for the Attica prison riot, and the 1973 Wounded Knee incident. Late in the play, a few of his more controversial cases are brought up by his onstage adversary and partnerit's still interesting stuff in trying to understand one of America's all-time great defense lawyers. I was also interested to learn that Kunstler was a law school classmate of Roy Cohn; in the play, several references to him are always made with devil's horns. This is the kind of play that might drive someone interested in the law to purchase a good biography and settle down for a good read.
Mossler, a stalwart at Florida Studio Theatre hasn't had a role this juicy and he more than delivers. Wearing a wig that is either hideously over the top or brilliant in suggesting what the real man looked like, he captures the body ticks the real Kunstler was known for, especially at the end of his life. The play is set at a speech before an unidentified law school a month before his death. He delivers the lecture by reviewing his "greatest hits" cases and their whys and wherefores with nuanced passion. This performance alone is worth a visit to Bowne's Lab Theatre where the play is part of FST's Stage III series, even for those with a limited interest in American history.
He is joined on stage by a fictional student, Kerry, played by Anique Clements. Kerry has sided with students who protested the invitation for William Kunstler to speak. Of course we learn her motivation at the end, and then they hug and make up. Clements is effective on stage, but no one could breathe much life into this fictional character who exists mostly as a dramatic device.
Because of the limitations of the theatrical space, the production is far from lavish, though costumes by Lea Umberger, lighting by Michael Cummings, and sound and projection designs by David Sabbagh get the job done. The scenic design by Bruce Price does notch things up a bit compared to previous seasons of this series.
FST has built a staff of theater professionals, all of whom direct regularly and can be counted on to do so with solid results. Fine tuning this production is Jason Cannon, who gets a great deal of the credit for Mr. Mossler's vivid performance. Actors in these kinds of meaty roles need a director's sure hand to bring out their best.
Were the production not already closing, I would have strongly recommended it to Sarasota and beyond audiences.
Kunstler ran through March 14, 2020, at Florida Studio Theatre, Bowne's Lab Theatre, 1241 N. Palm Avenue, Sarasota FL. For information, please call the box office at 941-366-9000 or visit www.floridastudiotheatre.org.
Cast: William Kunstler: Sam Mossler*