General Chemical Corporation has been pouring cancer-causing waste in the nation’s rivers for over 40 years. Now the high-powered firm of Alessi and Warsaw along with ace litigator Ben Donaldson, senior counsel from Block, Demitri and Philby, think they have enough evidence on behalf of their million clients for a class action suit. However, General Chemical does not admit any wrongdoing. In fact, their studies prove inconclusive as to their liability and they are not willing to settle.
The negotiations between the two sets of lawyers lead to all sorts of maneuvers on the part of the corporation’s mostly male team. Amoral Dorothy Pilsner, the beautiful and sexy corporate counsel for General Chemical who has come up before Donaldson in a California case that went badly for her, is sent by her bosses to try to blackmail two of the opponents. However, Alessi and Warsaw’s independent medical report has just been received and appears to change the ballgame. The engrossing and gripping play builds to a shocking and surprising ending, one you won’t see coming and that is revealing of how the legal system works.
It is to director Scott’s credit that the seven characters remain entirely different so that we have no trouble distinguishing them one from another although they all play similar roles. Stephen Bradbury is the 62-year-old attorney who is head of the firm named after him, foul-mouthed but avuncular and good at his job. Matthew DeCapua is his 36-year-old hot-shot junior partner, ambitious and reckless to get ahead. As Ben Donaldson, senior counsel from the second of the plaintiff’s firms, Lou Liberatore is a smooth-tongued ace attorney who never loses.
On the other side is David Marantz as the tempestuous 56-year-old Vice President of General Chemical, quick to lose his temper, for whom money is the bottom line. His senior corporate counsel is John Dubliner, played with suavity and elegance by Nick Plakias. As the outside counsel for General Chemical, Andrew Ramcharan Guilarte plays Ignatio Perez with a great deal of integrity, but one notices his Perez does not walk when confronted with dishonest dealing that may help his team win without having to go to court.
As the only woman on either team, Jenny Strassburg as corporate counsel Dorothy Pilsner has the most difficult role. While she is a fine actress and extremely attractive, she plays Jenny as too professional to use her feminine allure in the blackmail schemes; however, she does make the character’s amorality quite believable while demonstrating that Dorothy is a master at her job.
Josh Iacovelli has created a handsome and stylish setting that works for the executive board rooms as well as the other scenes which take place at meetings in restaurants and in a park. The well-tailored costumes by Dustin Cross define each of the legal and corporate characters in their own personal manner. Joan Racho-Jansen’s lighting is entirely suitable to the several settings.
While A Class Act covers material dramatized elsewhere, Norman Shabel’s play, seen at The Playroom earlier this year, is always absorbing, always unpredictable. The seven member cast is totally successful in bringing the legal machinations to life. This is a tense and enlightening evening in the theater that demonstrates the startling inner workings of the legal system even in what seems like an open and shut case.
A Class Act (through September 4, 2016)
New World Stages, 340 W. 50th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-239-6200 or visit http://www.aclassacttheplay.com
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission