S.F. & L.A. Theater Preview: ARGUENDO (Elevator Repair Service at Z Space and REDCAT)

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by Tony Frankel on October 28, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-San Francisco / Bay Area


For the sake of argument (“arguendo”), let us consider G-strings as tools of oppression, and pasties as violations of our First Amendment rights. This was the perspective presented by some exotic dancers from South Bend, Indiana, in the 1991 United States Supreme Court case Barnes v. Glen Theatre. Elevator Repair Service, the New York group that achieved fame with Gatz, its six-hour staged interpretive reading of The Great Gatsby, selected this case as inspiration for Arguendo, their hit show which arrives in San Francisco this week (Oct 30 – Nov 2) and Los Angeles the next (Nov 6 – 9).

Scene-from-Elevator-Repair-Services-ARGUENDO. Photo-by-Joan-Marcus.

The dancers from the Glen Theatre and Kitty Kat Lounge sought to end an Indiana law banning public nudity, claiming aesthetic freedom – and in the case of one honest soul, increased earnings – as their goal. Supreme Court oral argument transcripts are generally not known for their pathos, but ERS does a splendid job of rendering reams of legalese into well-executed, thought-provoking absurdist theater, entertaining and educating as they present the vagaries of precedent and case law.


John Collins, Artistic Director of ERS, initially searched through Supreme Court documents during the staging of Gatz, hoping that there were fair use grounds for them to read the novel over the objections of the Fitzgerald estate. He did not discover that they had grounds for fair use, but he did find the inspiration for this delightful 80-minute work.


Supreme Court decisions could be considered a form of hypertext, with each reference to Case X v. Y connecting to yet another document that is many pages long. In addition to a dedicated cast displaying amazing mnemonic endurance – the case transcript is not provided by ear prompts but committed to memory by all – projection designer Ben Rubin from the Office for Creative Research manages to make the text a player by projecting a backdrop that functions like a giant microfiche, zooming in on one argument, pulling back to see a page, and then whirring to the next. An austere start gives way to increasing chaos, culminating in inevitable, but well-timed, nudity (recommended for “mature audiences”).


Themes addressed include obscenity; whether nudity is inherently expressive (Souter says no); distinctions between public and private space; and the perhaps false hierarchy of “high” and “low” art (why is the musical Hair acceptable and the Kitty Kat Lounge not?). Or as Justice Harlan stated in Cohen v. California, 43 U.S. (15), 1971, “it is nevertheless often true that one man’s vulgarity is another’s lyric. Indeed, we think it is largely because governmental officials cannot make principled distinctions in this area that the Constitution leaves matters of taste and style so largely to the individual.” Arguendo, which is given a ridiculously short run, is enjoyable in terms of taste, style, execution, and content.


photos by Joan Marcus and Paula Court

Elevator Repair Service
Z Space
450 Florida St. in San Francisco
Oct 30 – Nov 2, 2014
for tickets, call 866.811.4111 or visit www.zspace.org
Walt Disney Concert Hall complex
631 West 2nd St. in Los Angeles
Nov 6 – 9, 2014
for tickets, call 213-237-2800 or visit www.redcat.org
for more info, visit www.elevator.org

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