Heard on the Hill

Scalia Play Coming This Summer

Arena Stage announces its next political plays

The panel from left to right: Jacqueline E. Lawton, John Strand, Mary Kathryn Nagle, Rita Braver, Nathan Alan Davis, Molly Smith (Alex Gangitano/ CQ Roll Call)

“The Originalist,” which dives into the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s heart and soul, will be performed on Arena Stage this summer.

Playwright John Strand premiered the play at Arena Stage in 2015. He is now commissioned with bringing the late justice’s story back, the theater announced on Monday.

Artistic director Molly Smith introduced Strand and other playwrights on a panel moderated by CBS’ Rita Braver. The theater announced during the panel nine of 25 new plays it has commissioned to run over the next 10 years.

The series is entitled, “Power Plays.”

“Free speech, it’s our most valued right as Americans and Arena Stage explodes with this idea,” Smith said.

The Power Plays series works through five themes: presidential voices, African-American voices, musical theater voices, women’s voices and insider voices, involving an exclusive perspective on the workings of institutions.

[LBJ’s Civil Rights Struggle a Stage Production]

“The Originalist” joined the lineup because Smith wanted to include more political plays, Strand said.

The plot centers around an argument between Scalia and a liberal law clerk during a Supreme Court term that ended with the Defense of Marriage Act repealed in June 2013. Their odd-couple relationship is centrist to the plot, according to a March 2015 New York Times review of its first run on Arena Stage.

“I don’t think anybody would argue seriously that the court is diverse from the political,” Strand said. “When we put this play together, when Justice Scalia was still alive, it was still in the news and topical for all of the reasons it still is.”

It goes beyond portraying Scalia’s contempt for certain views and harsh dissents, by showing the late justice’s heart and personal side, the Times reported.

“People on both sides of the area are nervous about what was going to be produced,” Smith said.

Strand is also working on a play for Arena Stage about President Teddy Roosevelt.

Strand said he is writing a Roosevelt story because he’s an “extraordinarily accomplished man as president. I began to think about where are the leaders today who have that kind of background, that kind of accomplishment.”

[Different Era of Refugees Takes Stage in Washington]

He added, “I’m sure they’re there but don’t seem to be running for president.”

Another play in the Power Plays is “Intelligence,” the story of a woman in the intelligence community which opens March 9.

“We had no idea 2017 was going to be what it is,” playwright Jacqueline E. Lawton said about the timeliness of the play.

Also in the works is a play about the “Black Wall Street” of Tulsa, Oklahoma, written by Nathan Alan Davis, and another about the rights of the Cherokee Nation, written by Mary Kathryn Nagle.

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.