Prominent Georgia attorney Dep Kirkland “decided to listen to his own voice, and walked away from the legal field altogether to pursue his previously private dream of acting, writing, and directing…” This statement comes from Mr. Kirkland’s biography in the program for the play he wrote, MsTRIAL. Its promising He Said, She Said premise is undermined by a disjointed structure and presentational flaws. Mr. Kirkland has come up with a viable plot, appealing familiar characters and expert dialogue, but his command of dramatic writing is shaky. It’s not the explosive legal drama it aspires to be, coming across more as a screenplay being workshopped instead of a realized stage play.
We’re at the metropolitan law office of powerhouse veteran attorney John Paris whose marriage is faltering. He is in the midst of a case representating a family whose young daughter was killed in a train accident. Assisting him is his young gay nephew and formerly corporate lawyer Dan Burks, and the young, alluring and recently hired former assistant district attorney Karen Lukoff who recently broke up with her boyfriend. The disparate trio wins a big settlement. There’s a victory party and later on back at Paris’ office he drunkenly rapes Lukoff. She reports this to the police, he’s arrested and Burks who had previously been quite friendly with Lukoff is Paris’ lawyer.
Embedded in this jagged scenario is a taut conflict with sociological resonance. Here, Kirkland offers a clunky treatment lasting two hours set over two acts with an intermission. The tangential first act is a courtroom drama without a courtroom. The characters discuss the case at length for 45 minutes during several scenes and then there’s the assault. The searing second act contains suspense, momentum and philosophical ruminations.
Kirkland plays Paris with folksy malevolence and odious bravado and it’s a solid leading characterization showcasing his effective range. As Dan, the charming Alan Trinca goes from harried professionalism to villainy with flair. Christine Evangelista’s Karen is a forceful, well-rounded and enticing portrayal. Janie Brookshire is wonderfully steely as an assistant district attorney. In a delightfully grand exhibition of welcome scene stealing is the magnetic stage veteran Gayle Samuels as a sly court reporter.
Director Rick Andosca’s staging is efficient and scenic designer Bill Clarke’s law office and district attorney’s chamber are impeccably detailed. However, Mr. Andosca and Mr. Clarke fail to surmount the play’s weak format. Each of the several scene transitions are punctuated by obtrusive crashing music and the sight of a battalion of black-clad headset-wearing stage technicians who move furniture around and put out and take away props. Considering simpler and more creative methods of going from scene to scene, this is all distracting and removes us from the world of the play for little purpose.
Lighting designer Mitchell Fenton achieves an accomplished sheen ranging from moody to clinical. Mimi Maxmen’s costume design is characterized by vibrant contemporary business wear.
Though there are compelling sequences, MsTRIAL has the overall sense of being a theatrical tryout rather than a polished work.
MsTRIAL (through March 1, 2020)
New World Stages, 340 West 50th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-239-6200 or visit http://www.mstrialnyc.com
Running time: two hours including one intermission