This is the 35th year the “Mock Trial” has been presented and, like last year, it is virtual. In keeping with the Shakespeare Theatre Company and the STC’s Bard Association, it is a delightful confluence of Shakespeare, lawyerly wit, and timely barbs focused on the news of the day. This year did not disappoint.
The arguments were made with brio and wit. The judges asked searching questions and kept the lawyers on their toes and it was seamlessly done. For once, everyone was glad that nobody followed Shakespeare’s dictum to “…kill all the lawyers.” Because they slayed!
“A Winter’s Tale,” the trial, before the Supreme Court of Siciliy, is an appeal against a lower court ruling. Having kept King Leontes and Queen Hermione apart for 16 years, the lady-in-waiting, Paulina, claims that she was obeying the dictates of Apollo’s oracle and saved the life of the queen. Granted, Leontes did believe she was unfaithful (the old whispering in the ear ploy) and condemned his queen and their baby girl to death, but somehow Paulina kept this state of affairs going for 16 years, gaining an outsized influence. Paulina has been ordered to pay 10,000 florins to Leontes and Hermione, who are also claiming to be aghast at missing 16 years of conjugal bliss (except Leontes seems to complain that Hermione has aged). It’s Shakespeare in all manner of mistaken identities, treachery, fumbling plots, and vast egos — and then the lawyers get involved.
This year the court is helmed by the Chief Justice Stephen G. Breyer of the Supreme Court of the United States. Sitting on the bench with him are Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod, United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit; Judge Amit P. Mehta, United States District Court for the District of Columbia; Judge Joshua Deahl, District of Columbia Court of Appeals; and Judge Thomas B. Griffith, United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (ret.). It turns out that judges can speak in couplets, iambic pentameter, and limericks.
The advocates are Makan Delrahim, University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, Former Assistant Attorney General for the Antitrust Division of the United States Department of Justice, for Leontes and Hermione; and Andrew Weissmann, Jenner & Block LLP, NYU School of Law, Former General Counsel of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, making the case for Paulina.
Reprising her role as the Marshal is Pamela Talkin, Supreme Court of the United States (ret.). Much of the precis of the story is given by Hannah Yelland, actress and veteran of STC’s “The Winter’s Tale” production, and Abbe David Lowell, Winston & Strawn LLP, and member of the Bard Association.
The catchword for the day is wit. There were more topical references worked in and tossed off, oh so casually, than one could keep track of. Certainly the choice of play was apt — a deluded king given to pronouncements of alternative facts and catered to by a coterie of sycophants? This play is ripe for this treatment, and the cast did it justice (excuse the pun). With the news of the past couple of years, everyone was skewered. It was far more enjoyably than in real life.
There was one moment that, if we could have been there in person, would have brought about a standing ovation — when the inimitable RBG was respectfully and drolly referenced. The comments section at the side of the screen just exploded. It was a poignant, yet wryly funny, moment and much appreciated.
Sadly, there was quite the disconnect between the spectators (for example, the viewers had the opportunity to vote on whom we thought won) and the judges on the charges brought. The judges’ verdict was that Paulina loses (to be honest, I cheered) and the audience thought she had won.
The arguments were made with brio and wit. The judges asked searching questions and kept the lawyers on their toes and it was seamlessly done. For once, everybody was glad that nobody followed Shakespeare’s dictum to “…kill all the lawyers.” Because they slayed!
There was one final surprise. As the judges and lawyers were signing off, a kitten showed up and the befuddled lawyer assured us all that “I’m not really a cat!” So, we ended with a judge singing, limericks, some robust couplets — and a cat. It was all pretty perfect.
The Shakespeare Theatre Company Bard Association is generously supported by Eversheds Sutherland LLP. 2020/21 Season Streaming Sponsor is the CoStar Group.
Running Time: Approximately one hour without intermission.
“Virtual Mock Trial” runs online through Sunday, March 14 at 11:59 p.m., EST. It is presented by the Shakespeare Theatre Company, Washington, DC. For more information, please click here.