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People may not think lawyers are very funny, though they are the butt of many jokes. In Little Rock, though, they turn the tables, making fun of politicians and one another in the biennial musical comedy revue "The Gridiron," put on by the Pulaski County Bar Association and the Arkansas Repertory Theatre.
The idea for "The Gridiron" originated in Washington, D.C., where a group of journalists called the Gridiron Club put on a musical sketch show to make fun of politicians. The concept evolved into similar programs throughout the United States. Arkansas's has been commandeered by lawyers; the bar has put on the show for more than 60 years. Its 2010 production, "A View from the Bar," premieres next Wednesday night at The Rep.
For the last 16 years, "The Gridiron" has been produced by Circuit Judge Mary McGowan, who is working with a cast made up of lawyers, paralegals, and their spouses.
"It's always a lot of fun to produce, especially since it's a musical comedy," she said. Then, laughing, "Or at least, I hope it's a comedy."
Rehearsals began right after the Fourth of July and were six days a week. Although there are no professional actors on the cast, McGowan insists that lawyers make pretty good thespians, what with their courtroom drama and generally argumentative nature. This year's cast is the largest it's ever been — 66 people, including newcomers and those returning to the "Gridiron" stage. The Rep is in charge of all other theatrical functions, such as lighting, set design, and stage management. Lori Isner of the Arkansas Arts Center Children's Theatre conducts an eight-piece orchestra.
The show's satire focuses on Arkansas political and legal figures, although it doesn't leave out national players. This year the story takes place at the Arlington Hotel in Hot Springs during a meeting of the Arkansas Bar Association; it includes a visit by the cast of the daytime talk show "The View" — thus the title of the show. The names of the writers are kept secret in order to protect their reputations as satirists, although McGowan promises it's never too stinging.
"I've dealt with complaints before, and I've had to be apologetic, but it's important to remember that it's satire," she said. "If you're spoofed, you've got to roll with it.
"Some have a much better sense of humor. I had an attorney tell me that now that he was made fun of in 'Gridiron,' he feels like he's important enough to have made it as a lawyer." McGowan herself was spoofed several years ago.
She hopes, however, that the jokes are not so exclusive that those who aren't part of the legal community won't get them. The audience, which McGowan says goes up and down in number depending on the year, is made up mostly of lawyers, along with political junkies and ordinary theatergoers who expect a good night out at The Rep. In her experience, there have been plenty of laughs.
"I've been told that some audience members couldn't hear the lines after a joke because they were laughing so hard."
Gridiron 2010's "A View from the Bar" opens next Wednesday, Aug. 18. A cocktail reception at 6 p.m. precedes the performance at 8 p.m. Curtain is 8 p.m. on Thursday and 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Tickets are $60 on opening night and $40 for A seats and $35 for B seats for all remaining performances but the final, which you can see for $25.