Of Loofahs and (Alleged) Lechery

Igor Keller: turning lawsuits into opera

Published in 2007 Alaska Super Lawyers — September 2007

Every generation, it seems, has a classic stage production about dramatic legal proceedings. In the 1950s there was Twelve Angry Men. In the 1980s it was A Few Good Men. And in the 21st century, a local composer has his own bid for the pantheon of great legal dramas.

Granted, Belltown resident Igor Keller’s show may center on loofahs, falafel and Fox News Channel talk-show host Bill O’Reilly’s alleged sexual harassment of an employee, but what do you want? It’s only seven years into the century, and he doesn’t have a lot of competition for best legal-arena stage production yet.

Still, the libretto Mackris v. O’Reilly, which premiered at the University of Washington’s Meany Hall in Seattle in January, had a lot for a lawyer to love. The opera not only takes a section of the notorious sexual-harassment complaint filed in 2004 against the TV talking head by his staff producer, Andrea Mackris, verbatim and filters it through a variety of classical forms such as madrigals, chorales and sleazy arias, it also cuts out the boring parts.

“It seemed like very, very interesting subject matter. I’m a jazz musician, and I’ve always wanted to get back into classical music,” Keller says.

The more he thought about it, though, the more a baroque oratorio à la Handel’s Messiah made sense. After all, it isn’t easy to stage a drama in which a lot of the action centers around O’Reilly allegedly coming on to his victim in a restaurant or on the phone—including a description of a shower fantasy complete with loofah and falafel—and he didn’t want to ruin the effect by making it a comedy. The suit ended in an unspecified settlement, with no admission of wrongdoing.

“[A fake] Bill O’Reilly dancing around the stage singing about vibrators may be amusing for two minutes, but two hours is going to kill it,” Keller notes.

As a result, the audience is treated to a madrigal in which performers sing, “During the course of his perverted ravings—shoo be doo be doo be—defendant Bill O’Reilly told plaintiff that they would then engage in sexual intercourse, sexual intercourse, intercourse, intercourse, inter…COURSE!”

“If you didn’t know the words, you wouldn’t know he was singing about phone sex,” Keller says.

On the Mackris v. O’Reilly Web site (mackrisvoreilly.com), Keller points out he’s not trying to trivialize sexual harassment—it’s merely the subject matter. The libretto is not a hit piece on O’Reilly, either. Keller just found the story compelling enough to spend nine months writing it, and more than $60,000 of his own money staging it at Meany Hall.

The show’s two-night run sold 350 tickets at $10 a pop. Keller didn’t expect to fill the cavernous auditorium, but believes he would have done better had it not been for a two-day snowstorm. He did garner reviews in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (loved it) and Seattle Weekly (not so much), however. O’Reilly didn’t attend, but Keller says Mackris’ attorney called and wished him luck.

The unemployed musician says he doesn’t plan to make a practice of focusing on contemporary legal proceedings.

“The [Alberto] Gonzales thing is way too long, but I just really, really felt this [O’Reilly case] was subject matter for the 21st century. We’re beyond writing about gods and Valhalla and tragic heroines with tuberculosis.”

If you missed the show, Keller sells a double-CD soundtrack on the show’s Web site for $20.

He says, “I know this piece’s time will come, and hopefully it will be soon—because otherwise, I’m going to be begging for change out here on Second Avenue.”

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