SUNY Fredonia Actors Showcase Life Of Former Supreme Court Justice

An examination of our country and our beliefs took place Saturday evening at the Robert H. Jackson Center, when a company of actors from SUNY Fredonia performed ”Mountain – the Life of Justice William O. Douglas,” by Douglas Scott.

James Ivey of the Fredonia Faculty, portrayed the controversial Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, hitting the historical high points of his long service on the court, and portraying them, not in a form of hero worship and human perfection, but as the committed actions of an intelligent, devoted, yet very human man.

The performance was a dramatic reading, performed with scripts in hand, but totally in character and in a manner which draws the audience into the plot and reveals the events of the scripts in an entertaining and effective manner.

Supporting Ivey in his acting were two of his students, Lindsay Zimmerman and Steve Russell, both seniors, majoring in Musical Theater. Both were clean spoken and thoroughly involving, each of them switching from one character to the next as they portrayed dozens of people who interacted with the late judge.

The plot begins on the last day of Douglas’s life, and moves back and forth in time, revealing events from his life and showing how those events colored his understanding of the court’s role in history and his motivations for making the decisions which he made. It shows how the future justice lost his father when he was 6 years old, worked all his life, often for minuscule wages, to help support his mother and his siblings, and worked his way through school and college.

Perhaps it might have taken a more linear route to its destination, with a bit of confusion when wife number one returned after we’ve already learned of the marriage to wife number two, for example, but all in all, I had no trouble hearing or understanding what was taking place.

Douglas was a committed environmentalist and human rights advocate, who often found himself in the minority of the court’s decision, his strongly-worded dissents resounding off the page of court records. Americans often forget how our modern conception of justice has been ignored or even opposed, not only by people in general, but by the government which is charged with protecting justice, and how much we owe to those who had the courage to stand up for justice, in the face of public fear.

Douglas married four different wives, spent months and years separated from his widowed mother and from his own children, and lived a life which modern supermarket check-out magazines would turn into headlines, yet he spoke as he believed, regretted things if he later decided they were a mistake, and helped to steer the nation to live up to its own beliefs.

The audience was attentive to the performance, and remained to ask questions of the cast, when the performance was over. Among the members of the sizable audience were large alumni groups from Allegheny College, and from SUNY Fredonia.