Dep Kirkland has a claim to fame: He was the original prosecutor in the case that inspired John Berendt’s “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” Now he’s a playwright and actor. In “MsTrial,” Kirkland has composed for himself the role of — surprise, surprise — a charismatic attorney. Both his writing and acting demonstrate a severe absence of discipline, making “MsTrial” an exceedingly sloppy vanity project that doesn’t even succeed at sensationalism.
As an actor, Kirkland tends to fold his arms akimbo and glare a lot, especially when he’s silent, which in this play is fairly rare. Mostly, he spews forth the vulgarity-laced epithets of which he seems enamored as a writer — “Don’t blow smoke up my rectum” represents the overall level of creativity.
His character is every great lawyer rolled into one, a spotlight-craving savior of the little guy named John Paris, who’s trying to win millions from a train company on behalf of a little girl who was crushed by a speeding locomotive.
Paris has recently hired two young associates who are helping him with this case. There’s his cousin Daniel (John Livingston), who’s smart and talented and gay. And there’s Karen (Amy Laxineta), who’s smart and talented and beautiful. Paris the brilliant lawyer mentors them in the ways of the lawsuit, while Paris the complicated and flawed human being tries to get in Karen’s pants. It’s the latter issue that takes over the story and dominates the second half, in which Karen accuses Paris of rape.
There may, in fact, be a play buried somewhere beneath the cliches here, either a traditional legal thriller or an “Oleanna”-style think-piece on gender politics. Kirkland doesn’t unearth either. We know from the time of the sexual incident exactly what happened, so there’s no mystery at work, and there’s really nothing thoughtful going on here. Kirkland turns his own heroic character into the villain and then manages to find some form of salvation for him. It’s hard to care.
Laxineta is the only one who delves into this stuff and finds the more honest dramatic currents in her character. Under Barry Satchwell Smith’s direction, the rest of the cast struggles mightily to deliver a near-noir rat-a-tat rhythm, but they end up with a lot of uncomfortable pauses that don’t inspire confidence in either the text or the performers.