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Washington Lawyer

Legal Spectator: A Play in One Act

From Washington Lawyer, October 2003

By Jacob A. Stein

Legal Spectator

SCENE 1: The dingy office of an unsuccessful lawyer.

Frank Counsellor, Esq. sits in his small office, flat broke. He is a great lawyer, but he has no clients. He is a great romantic lover, but women pass him by. There he sits confessing to himself that despite his great gifts he is a failure. His talents are wasting assets.

He eats his lunch. A stale sandwich. No wine. He knows that a meal without wine is a day without sunshine.

At that moment the office door opens and in runs a beautiful woman. A look of terror on her face. She needs help. She is being chased by a madman. Counsellor springs into action. He slams the door shut and throws the bolt.

She thanks him for his help. She saw on the door that he is a lawyer. She can tell by his commanding voice and the decisive way he closed the door that he is a great lawyer.

She needs a place to live. She had to flee because the man with whom she was living is insanely jealous. She fears for her life. Mr. Counsellor offers living arrangements upstairs over his office where he lives.

SCENE 2: A successful lawyer’s office.

Lu (that is her name) is complimenting Mr. Counsellor on his fine legal mind. They understand each other because she understands him. The clients who passed him by now seek his advice.

Lu has redecorated his office. The centerpiece is an antique stand-up desk. She helps him with his jury speeches. He wins cases. The press wants his views. He discovers he and Lu enjoy the same things: law, literature, music, Woody Allen, and all the arts. They are inseparable. He now has the money to attend gallery openings, concerts, fashionable restaurants. They live comfortably beyond their means.

He is Professor Higgins. She is Eliza Doolittle. He can be forgiven if he takes on the mannerisms of Rex Harrison and the self-satisfied, pompous demeanor of a man who believed his real worth has become known to people he does not even know.

Her story is filled with contradictions. She was here, she was there. The men in her life were not men of any consequence. She was married when she was young, but it was all a mistake. She was a waitress in Paris and on the fringes of the theater in New York. She knew Sally Bowles in Berlin. Why even discuss it? It is of no importance.

He has so many clients he must work around the clock. She did such a good job redecorating his office and their apartment that he encourages her to become an interior decorator. Occasionally she buys something for their apartment. It is not exactly what he would have bought, but no matter. She is entitled to her own ideas.

He suggests she audit some law school lectures. She tries it and causes a stir among the students. She likes the attention but not the lectures. Law books are too heavy and the professors just repeat what is in the book.

He notices she is developing a life of her own to fill the time when he is with clients. She seems to be losing interest in him. He becomes suspicious. He hires a detective who gives him startling news. Lu has taken up with a second-rate, unkempt professional wrestler.

Mr. Counsellor cannot believe this. How could someone as perceptive as Lu, someone who knows and appreciates real quality, waste her time with a second-rate wrestler? He argues with the detective. The detective assures him that there is something going on between Lu and the wrestler. Mr. Counsellor has trouble accepting this. How can it be?

SCENE 3: A successful lawyer’s office, similar to Mr. Counsellor’s redecorated office. It too has an antique stand-up desk.

Mr. Counsellor is in the office of Mr. Allwise. Mr. Allwise, when he was younger, was known to have been a man of the world, a man of experience in the law and other things. Mr. Counsellor tells Mr. Allwise the circumstances. Mr. Allwise listens without interruption. Mr. Counsellor asks Mr. Allwise whether to confront the woman or ignore what he has learned from the detective. Mr. Allwise, a believer in the value of demonstrative evidence, asks whether Mr. Counsellor has a photograph of this fascinating woman. Mr. Counsellor takes a photograph from his wallet and hands it to Mr. Allwise. He looks at it with great interest and then puts it on his desk.

“Well, what is your advice?” asks Mr. Counsellor.

“I recommend against confrontation,” says Mr. Allwise. “She may tell you something that it’s best you not hear. She led you to believe that she saw in you exactly what you saw in yourself. If she says that she really did not believe what you believed she believed, you will not recover from it.

“Let’s look at it objectively. It is a fact she brought you good luck. She is your good fairy. By the way, have you read Ferenc Molnár’s play The Good Fairy? Was it there that I read that the world wants to be deceived? No matter.

“You have what you wanted—the appearance of success, and the success it brought with it. In our profession appearance is often as good as reality. Enjoy it all as long as it lasts.”

Then Mr. Allwise, while staring at the picture, says, “My friend, we must understand that when you are lucky enough to have the affection of someone such as Lu, it is always temporary.”

Mr. Counsellor: “How did you know her name was Lu?”

As the curtain slowly falls, the spotlight focuses on the stand-up desk.

Jacob A. Stein can be reached by e-mail at jstein@steinmitchell.com.