Kunstler, now playing at 59E59 Theaters, is a fictionalized account of real life American lawyer and civil rights activist William Moses Kunstler, who was known for his politically unpopular clients, such as the Chicago Seven, the Attica prison riots, Catonsville Nine, the Black Panther Party, Weather Underground, and members of the American Indian movement, later known as the Second Battle of Wounded Knee. Playwright Jeffrey Sweet offers up a clever script exposing a fascinating behind-the-scenes account of what really went down during these high profile cases.
The play takes place in 1995, during a seminar given by Kunstler on a college campus with a brilliant young law student assigned to introduce him, and as he delves into the true details and reasoning behind his most publicized cases we are whisked along with Kunstler's timely message of the civil rights guaranteed Americans under the Constitution.
Jeff McCarthy plays Kunstler with passion and vigor, seducing the audience with his colorful portrayal of the often misunderstood man. McCarthy’s commitment to understanding the real man from the inside out is clear. His performance is commendable, from his mannerisms to his unruly energy, with his permanently disheveled appearance and wild hair. Nambi E Kelley plays Kerry, a skeptical African-American law student who has been stuck with introducing and assisting Kunstler during his seminar. Despite the high energy and fervor of McCarthy’s Kunstler, Kelley holds her own and is engaging in her own right.
Director Meagen Fay makes excellent use of the space, allowing her actors free rein to channel the energy of the auditorium, keeping the flow and pace always interesting and spontaneous. Ambient lighting by Betsy Adams and a simplistic yet bold set by James J Fenton both complement and support the style of the show.
Whether you were around to witness his landmark cases first hand, or merely remember hearing about them, there’s no denying that Kunstler possessed a strength of character and firm belief in justice and civil rights for all. This is a captivating and powerful theatrical event that will leave you cheering.