OJ, red frilly underwear and all, unites LA

Click to follow
Americans have gobbled up the books, devoured the television movie, listened raptly to the defendant's taped denials and babbled endlessly on computer chat lines. It was only to be expected, then, that there wouldbe an OJ Simpson play.

Twice a week, actors take to the stage in a dingy backroom theatre in Hollywood to perform their latest version of the Simpson saga. On Saturday, more than a month after the start of the most watched trial in history, the tiny theatre was full. Los Angeles, a city addicted to addictions, is showing few symptoms of OJ fatigue.

OJ Law owes more to surreal satire than historic accuracy, but it contains some acid social commentary. Marcia Clark, the prosecutor whose clothes and hair-do seem to matter as much to TV viewers as her legal skills, wears red frilly underwear over a pair of tiny black culottes. She also kick-boxes.

Judge Lance Ito has the black and white shirt of an American football umpire. And F Lee Bailey, godfather of OJ's "Dream Team" of millionaire lawyers, sports a cowboy hat and brandishes a six-shooter. "Do you know the way to save OJ? It gets worse with every passing day..." sing the cast, to the tune of "Do You Know the Way to San Jose?"

"This is one of the best things that has happened in years," explained Gary Gordon, the co-writer. "It has given everyone in Los Angeles some reference point. It has brought us together and given us something to talk about."

His latter point is certainly true. The centreless metropolis, held together tenuously by an enormous freeway system, includes a large rootless and peripatetic population, mostly whites who have little in common beyond the quest for dollars. The OJ case has provided them with a unifying thread, an escape from the tyranny of talking endlessly about themselves. It does not much matter that the evidence is often dull, or that much of it was thoroughly aired before the case started. When interest in the testimony flags, they simply expand their focus.

Take the past few days. While there has been some interest in Rosa Lopez (the Salvadorean maid who is Mr Simpson's only alibi witness), the hot topic was Ms Clark's battle to keep custody of her sons, aged three and five. Hers is the dilemma of every single mother trying to balance a demanding job with parenthood. Court papers showing she had $23,000 credit card debts and a $14,000 dental bill and spent $1,500 on new shoes and five suits for the trial only added spice to the mix.

Nor is she alone. Tabloid television has zoomed in on Mr Simpson's celebrated black attorney, Johnnie Cochran, running various allegations against him by his first wife, and "outing" the existence of a son by a former lover, who is white. This week's National Enquirer has dug into the background of Christopher Darden, the black prosecutor whose aggressive style has made him a star. He, too, has a "secret heartache" - a brother who has done time for burglary.

Even Ms Lopez's dresses became a much-chewed bone of contention. Millions found themselves confronting a question: was she one of that very visible, but rarely heard from, class of Hispanic immigrants who, after years of servicing the needs of the Los Angeles rich, wanted a slice of the action?

"Television has turned the Simpson trial into a throwback to the Roman Colosseum, a gladiatorial contest surrounded by profiteering charlatans," wrote Charles Lindner, a for-mer president of the Los Angeles County Criminal Bar Association.

But as Mr Gordon watches his audience troop happily home, he takes a different view: "Where else would you have a Japanese-American judge, black lawyers ... different gender issues. Even the Hispanics are represented. There's something there for everyone. That's what entertainment is supposed to be."

He is right, of course. It is great entertainment. Whether it has much to do with justice is another matter.