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Bob Goepfert Reviews "Kunstler"

PITTSFIELD, Mass.   During the 1960s and 70s, whenever there was a trial involving political controversy you could be sure the defense attorney for the headline-making cases was William Kunstler. Today, unless you are of a certain age, Kunstler’s contributions to the cause of social justice are almost forgotten.

The play “Kunstler,” at Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, Mass. through June 10, is attempt to rectify that neglect.  Written by Jeffrey Sweet, the work honors the man who helped shape legal history.   He was a founder of what he called “Movement Law” which theorizes that traditional legal procedures can be used to inhibit justice.  Therefore, he reasoned, the practice of law must sometimes be disruptive in order to serve higher goals.

One of the play’s great strengths is that though it has the elements of both a history lesson and a biography, it is neither.  Essentially “Kunstler” attempts to tell how an individual is called to his life’s work and that calling can radicalize him and places him outside of the mainstream of society.

Kunstler’s growth as a man and a lawyer is presented in four movements – discovery, disillusionment, hope and reflection.

The stories he tells about the Chicago Seven trial, the Attica Prison riots and the Wounded Knee trial, along with a reflective post-lecture conversation with a female African-American student, show how he evolved into a man who was obsessed with the right of every individual to have fair access to the law.

Thanks to a riveting portrayal by Jeff McCarthy the 90-minute play rarely becomes a history lesson and is always compelling.  Meagen Fay’s direction keeps the work flowing, never permitting it to become static and a strong supporting performance by Erin Roche adds texture to the work.

“Kunstler” is more than a play about how one man stood up for the outsider in tumultuous times.  It is a play that makes it clear how necessary it is for freedom to have a justice system that serves every person within a society.

“Kunstler” at Barrington Stage Company, Pittsfield, Mass.   Performances Tuesdays-Sundays until June 10.   Tickets and schedule information 413-236-8888 or barringtonstagecompany.org   

Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management. 

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