Gero Brings Scalia to the Asolo Stage

Theater

BY PHILIP LEDERER SRQ DAILY FRESHLY SQUEEZED CONTENT EVERY MORNING THURSDAY JAN 19, 2017

Asolo Repertory continues the final season of its American Character project with a timely production of The Originalist from Charles MacArthur Award-winning playwright John Strand. Premiering just last spring, The Originalist zeroes in on the offices of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, when a young liberal law school graduate lands a clerkship in the famously argumentative and conservative justice’s office, finding the frustration she expected and the warmth she did not. Starring four-time Helen Hayes Award-winner and role originator Edward Gero as Scalia, The Originalist opens this Friday and runs through March 7.

Making his name performing Shakespeare but branching out into more contemporary and political work in the last decade or so, including portraying former president Richard Nixon in Nixon’s Nixon, Gero is no stranger to controversial figures onstage but found Scalia particularly alluring. Not only had Strand written the part with Gero in mind, but it also fulfilled a dream for the actor who describes himself as “the best number two” around, picking up meaty roles after other actors originated them. “I had hoped one day to create a role of my own,” he says, and The Originalist was that opportunity, with a figure he describes as “Shakespearean” in its larger than life persona and outsized eloquence.

And as a Roman Catholic Italian-American born and raised in New Jersey—just like Scalia—Gero relished the chance to play something other than the stereotypical Mafia-tinged Italian-American. “To play this particular Italian-American, who rose to the top of the political ladder, was an honor and a challenge,” he says.

Gero and Strand developed the character for a year and a half, during which time Gero did his typical research reading biographies and such and even pulling out The Federalist Papers to better understand Scalia’s philosophy. But the “ultimate research” came in meeting the man himself—studying him in court, sharing lunch in his chambers, skeet shooting with his clerks—finding the intimidating figure to be “extraordinarily open and disarmingly warm.” Says Gero, “I’m proud to say we forged a real friendship.”

And while seeing a two-hour play may not be enough to forge a real friendship, Gero hopes it can impact the audience’s conception of civility in public discourse and appreciation of the humans behind opposing opinions. “It’s not a kitchen drama, this is a play about great ideas and important ideas for our democracy,” he says. “People may not change their political opinions, nor do I think they need to, but if they understand there’s a difference between who the person is and what ideas they hold, then that’s a job well done.”

The Originalist opens at Asolo Repertory Theatre on January 18 and runs through March 7.

Pictured: Edward Gero as Antonin Scalia. Photo by John Revisky.

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