For those of a certain age, watching Florida Studio Theatre’s Stage III production of Jeffrey Sweet’s Kunstler, about the controversial attorney and activist William Kunstler, will bring back memories of some turbulent times, cases and causes where he stood at the forefront. For those too young to remember the colorful Kunstler—like the young law students the play has him addressing—Kunstler serves as a history lesson.
It’s not a one-man play; joining Sam Mossler as the lawyer is Anique Clements, as the law student, Kerry, who in 1995 (shortly before his death) gets stuck introducing him to the audience. Kerry’s not thrilled about that, and very late in the play we find out the reasons why. But with a few exceptions, when Kerry is reacting to Kunstler’s speech or helping him to re-enact moments from the trial of the Chicago Seven, this is Mossler’s show.
And he’s well in charge, whether it’s telling lawyer jokes to warm up a hostile crowd, admitting to his failures in his personal life, or recounting with passion the details of some of his cases. With mussed gray hair and sideburns helping to complete Kunstler’s famously disheveled look (although he never looks quite as rumpled as the real thing), Mossler evokes the anger at injustice that fueled Kunstler’s change from a lawyer working on estates to a familiar face in the media (which he courted) in high-profile cases where human rights were being violated.
That the retelling of legal battles from as long ago as half a century (with visual projections summoning up the faces and tumult of the times) is intriguing, not boring, is a tribute to Mossler, Sweet and Kunstler himself, who was readymade for being the subject of a show. The Chicago Seven, Freedom Riders in the South, prisoners rioting in Attica, the Berrigan brothers—his client list can read like a Who’s Who of the civil rights-Vietnam war era. Mossler (under the capable direction of Jason Cannon) brings Kunstler vividly to life; and it’s worth remembering and talking about those significant cases today. “The law is a living thing,” Kunstler declares, and whether his clients were innocent or guilty, he saw it as his job to level the playing field for them in court. It’s a job worth doing.
Kunstler continues through March 13 in FST’s Bowne’s Lab Theatre. For tickets, call 366-9000 or go to floridastudiotheatre.org.