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Obama’s Supreme Court Nominee Started Out as a Theatre Critic

Obama's Supreme Court Nominee Started Out as a Theatre Critic

Merrick Garland, Barack Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court vacancy, is a moderate centrist whose legal opinions, according to SCOTUSblog’s Tom Goldstein, “avoid unnecessary, sweeping pronouncements.” But before Garland took his first steps towards the law, he was a theatre critic, at least for the space of 1,200 words in the Harvard Crimson. In March of 1973, Garland set his sights on a repertory production of three plays by Harold Pinter, demonstrating the keen mind and persuasive reasoning that would go on to make him an almost certainly doomed candidate for the nation’s highest court. (Guardian art critic Jason Farago was the first to make the discovery.)

There’s a certain cruelty in preserving the writings of a 20-year-old critic for posterity, especially when they date back to long before the era of automatic digital archives. (The reviews I wrote for my college newspaper, and even my earliest professional [sic] writing, have been mercifully obliterated by the internet; thanks, internet.) But even as a college junior, Garland steered away from sweeping pronouncements. His review of Pinter’s “Night School,” “Landscape,” and “Silence,” performed at Harvard’s Loeb Drama Center with a cast including future “Law & Order” bit player Darcy Pulliam, is uniformly kind to his peers: The cast, he says, is “largely distinguished”; the director deserves “the greatest plaudits… for bringing these three plays together, for in so doing she has made theater a dynamic event, progressing in two dimensions at once.” (He probably means “directions” and not “dimensions” there, but still.)

The only guilty party, Garland holds, is the playwright himself. Of “Night School,” he writes:

“In terms of plot and set, the play is largely conventional. More important, the play is a bit too Pinteresque to be good Pinter. It is as if he had merely rearranged bits of other plays to create a “well made” Pinter play. The aunts are the image of the ‘Birthday Party’s’ Meg. Sally’s ambiguous character (school teacher or whore?) is reminiscent of ‘The Homecoming’s’ Ruth. And even the theme of the struggle for a room of one’s own is an old favorite (‘The Room’).”

Given that the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Republican majority has publicly pledged not to hold hearings on any nominee, citing a non-existence precedent that one imagines Old Man Pinter could have struck down with one withering glance, the chances are excellent that Garland will remain right where he is on the D.C. Court of Appeals. But if he really needs a career change, the theater always needs good critics. Wonder if he’s seen “Hamilton.”

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