First Monday In October
by Willard Manus
Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee's 1975 Broadway play FIRST MONDAY IN OCTOBER gets a worthy airing at Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, thanks to vibrant performances by Ralph Waite and Laurie O'Brien as battling Supreme Court justices, one on the left, the other the right. Gender also figures in the clash, which is triggered when O'Brien (an Orange County judge named Ruth Loomis) becomes the first female justice named to the high court.
Justice Daniel Snow (Waite) may be a rock-hard liberal, an uncompromising believer in the First Amendment, but he's also a bit of a male chauvinist where women on the bench are concerned. It's not that he's against them, just can't help condescending to them. Loomis doesn't smooth her way into the previously all-male judicial club. A prickly, combative person, she is sensitive to slights, quick to fight back, trade insult for insult. She and Snow go at each other gleefully, vituperatively (so much so that it strains credulity to believe that a newcomer would be quite so assertive and rude).
The gloves come off when the high court tackles two big cases, one dealing with pornography, the other corporate abuse of power. Snow takes the liberal position, Loomis the conservative. Caught in the crossfire are the other seven justices, led by Chief Justice James Crawford (the polished Kent Minault). Crawford and Snow's law clerk (Scott Roberts) play integral roles in the story, but the other eleven members of the court (justices, attendants, nightwatchmen, etc.) are dispensable stick figures,
It's Waite and O'Brien's play, though. They need to work hard to make Lawrence and Lee's flawed, predictable story work. It's a testament to their skill and charisma that FIRST MONDAY IN OCTOBER comes off as well as it does.
Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., W. L.A. Call (310) 477-2055 or visit odysseytheatre.com