Elevator Repair Service Arguendo

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“Wittily inventive… keeps growing richer and more insightful.”—New York Times

Supreme Court Case:
Barnes v. Glen Theatre, Inc.
Docket # 90-26

Question: Does a state prohibition against complete nudity in public places violate the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of expression?

Widely acclaimed New York City theater ensemble Elevator Repair Service (ERS) utilize a 1991 Supreme Court case that examines this central question and its verbatim transcribed text as the basis for their new production, Arguendo, which is co-commissioned by the Wexner Center. Arguendo (a legal term meaning for the sake of the argument) centers on a case brought by erotic dancers at two Indiana clubs, the Glen Theatre and the Kitty Kat Lounge, who were petitioning the court for the right to perform completely nude. In ERS’s ingenious staging, three actors portray all of the Justices of the Supreme Court. The justices display surprisingly dry wit as they draw out key issues of free speech, censorship, and even the fine distinctions of the definition of art in their sage deliberations. “How does one draw that line between Salome and the Kitty Kat Lounge?” poses Justice Antonin Scalia.

Throughout, a dynamic background of animated projected text (taken from legal precedents) swirls, shifts, and zeroes into focus. This cleverly amplifies the strategies and thought processes of the two lawyers involved as petitioners in the case, as they scramble to withstand the probing inquiries of the justices. Arguendo and its thorny First Amendment puzzle illuminates the inner workings of the Supreme Court while entertaining you with humor, insight, and superbly inventive stagecraft.

Arguendo represents a fresh direction for Elevator Repair Service, who longtime Wex theater fans may recall from such earlier productions as Total Fictional Lie and Highway to Tomorrow. Since then, ERS experienced a major breakthrough with Gatz, their word-for-word staging of The Great Gatsby which toured to huge success worldwide. (The New York Times called it “The most remarkable achievement in theater not only of this year but also of this decade…one of the most exciting and improbable accomplishments in theater in recent years.”) They followed that remarkable achievement with two more polished productions based on literary classics: The Sound and the Fury and The Select (The Sun Also Rises).

Now ERS distill the strides they have made in recent years with ambitious large-scale stage works, retain the playfulness that is at the heart of the company, and take on new dimensions of civic engagement with Arguendo's multifaceted examination of a constitutional question. The Wex's performances of this riveting work come to us directly following its premiere at the prestigious Public Theater in New York. See for yourself how ERS have developed into one of America’s foremost theater ensembles.

Note: This show is intended for mature audiences, ages 18 and up. 

Arguendo is presented in conjunction with Ohio State’s COMPAS (Conversations on Morality, Politics, and Society) program and its year-long cross-disciplinary exploration of the theme Public/Private. COMPAS, an initiative of Ohio State’s Center for Ethics and Human Values, is organized to promote civil and informed debate on important social and political issues, and to bring together researchers and students from across the university as well as engage the broader community.

Arguendo was co-commissioned by The Public Theater, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, ArtsEmerson: The World on Stage and Wexner Center for the Arts at The Ohio State University. Arguendo was workshopped at The Public Theater’s 2013 Under the Radar Festival and was developed in part at The Bushwick Starr, New York Theatre Workshop, Abrons Art Center, the Vineyard Arts Project, and LaMaMa ETC.

Arguendo was made possible with funding by the New England Foundation for the Arts’ National Theater Project, with lead funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

This presentation is supported by the Arts Midwest Touring Fund, a program of Arts Midwest that is funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, with additional contributions from the Ohio Arts Council and General Mills Foundation. Additional support for this presentation is provided by the Puffin Foundation West, Ltd.; The Law Firm of Kitrick, Lewis & HarrisThe Gittes Law GroupLeeseberg & Valentine; and Robert Gray Palmer Co., LPA.


Doris Duke Charitable Foundation



New England Foundation for the Arts

Arts Midwest Touring Fund



The Blackwell Inn



The Columbus Dispatch



Greater Columbus Arts Council

The Columbus Foundation

Nationwide Foundation

Ohio Arts Council



Elevator Repair Service Arguendo