Even if it substitutes legal doctrine for storytelling, “Arguendo,” a freewheeling experimental theater piece based on a 1990s Supreme Court case that tackled whether nude dancing is protected under the First Amendment, makes for one hell of a law school class.
Elevator Repair Service, the avant-garde theater company best known for reciting the texts of famous novels, became the toast of Off-Broadway three seasons ago with “Gatz,” an inspired presentation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby.” “Arguendo” is constructed primarily from the actual oral argument transcripts.
A five-member cast portrays the Supreme Court justices, the attorneys who argue in front of them and an adult performer who is concerned about how the ruling could affect her work.
To its credit, “Arguendo” does revolve around a direct conflict — whether a state ban on public nudity will be found constitutional — and is far more intellectually probing than your average drama. It is also quite funny, as the judges miss no opportunity to poke fun at the situation.
Still, it remains an unavoidably didactic project that attempts to compensate with physical, excessive theatrics.
Movement is added by having the judges slide on their rolling chairs, and the judges’ ridiculing of the attorneys is heightened so that it becomes merciless bullying.
You also have to wonder whether all the audience members can follow the legalese.
“Arguendo” plays at the Public Theater through Oct. 13.425 Lafayette St., 212-967-7555, publictheater.org.