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A CurtainUp Review
A Class Act

Almost every day I read on the front page of the major newspapers stories that are exactly parallel to A Class Act .. .the world of industrial America is poisoning our world. And it is the powerless individual who is rarely able to find justice. I am afraid that all too often, Lady Justice really is blind. — Norman Shabel, lawyer turns playwright.
L-R: Lou Liberatore, Matthew DeCapua, Stephen Bradbury, Jenny Strassburg, Nick Plakias, Andrew Ramcharian Guilarte, and David Marantz. (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg).
To begin, a caveat:: A Class Act which just opened at New World Stages would be more accurately named A Class Action. It is NOT a revival of the musical about composer-lyricist Edward Kleban that had a brief run at Manhattan Theater Club's smaller venue in 2000.

And so, the above quote is not a misprint but a sum-up of lawyer-turned playwright Norman Shabel's depressing view of the justice system that inspired his legal eagle drama. His dramatis personae comprises a group of legal and corporate bigwigs for whom doing the right thing means doing what's right for them. No wonder that his ominous "justice really is blind" is tagged to the title of the program's cover.

I wish I could disagree completely with Shabel's downbeat view of the way the justice system deals with corporations doing deadly harm with their products and manufacturing methods. I also wish that I could tell you that he'd managed to conclude the class action suit he has dramatized on an upbeat, uplifting note. What Mr. Shabel has managed to do is use his many years as a lawyer to give audiences a behind-the-scenes look at how and why class action suits can drag on for years, and the compromises and schemes required to put them to bed.

Unlike your typical courtroom drama, this story unfolds mainly in the private boardrooms of a law firm and the corporation accused of causing the deaths of thousands of people living near the waters they poisoned. What's at issue here is not whether Greater Chemical Corporation is guilty of putting the bottom line before public safety. It's clear that they are. It's also clear that defending the plaintiffs has become a burden for their representatives.

Consequently A Class Act is all about putting the spotlight on a world in which even the supposedly good guys have a moral elasticity that makes them willing to make a deal, even if it takes precedence over true justice for their clients. As the plaintiffs' chief lawyer, Phil Alessi (Stephen Bradbury), tells Ben Donaldson (Lou Liberatore), a less ready to settle senior counsel of a second firm representing them, "For the right money, I'd settle with Hitler."

No faulting the 7-member cast. They do a good job of individualizing all these high-powered, corporate and legal types. And Mr. Shabel gets his cat-and-mouse art of the deal story off with a fast-paced opening scene in Alessi and his junior partner Frank Warsaw's (Matthew DeCapua) office. Their scene setting chit-chat with its and barrage of F-bombs has a David Mamet-like realism. The arrival of the Greater Chemical team, and several detours to brief pas-de-deux meetings in Central Park and a restaurant escalate our metaphorical swim in shark infested waters.

Unfortunately the playwright resorts to using some really hoary tricks and schemes to move his plot forward. That includes his attempt to bring in at least one heroic character with a teensy-weensy, and highly predictable smattering of Erin Brockovich's battle with a large cancer-spreading corporation. However, unlike that inspiring David-Goliath true story, Shabel's use of this for his final big reveal is not especially surprising and hardly inspiring.

The production values are pretty bare bones, but they work. What doesn't work is the play's being consistently engaging as well as a worthy dramatization of a serious societal issue.

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A Class Act by Norman Shabel
Director; Christopher Scott
Cast: Stephen Bradbury (Phil Alessi), Matthew DeCapua (Frank Warsaw),Andrew Ramcharan Guilarte (Ignatio Perez), Lou Liberatore (Ben Donaldson), David Marantz (Edwar Duchamp), Nick Plakias (John Dubliner), Jenny Strassburg (Dorothy Pilsner)
Scenic Design: John Jacovelli
Costume Design: Dustin Cross
Lighting Design: Joan Racho-Jansen
Sound Design: Jared Sclar
Stage Manager: Christine Vega
Running Time: 100 minutes, no intermission
Theater 5 New World Stages 340 W. 50th St.
From 7/16/16; opening 7/25/16; closing 9/04/16
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 7/18/16 press preview

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