It could be Shakespeare in the park. Then again, it might be a showdown between two debating teams. Or maybe a scene from "West Side Story" with rival gangs squaring off to rumble, albeit with gang members older than the original cast.
It is the scene outside the drug and perjury trial of D.C. Mayor Marion Barry. With only 18 seats in the courtroom for the public, there often are more people -- Barry suppporters, Barry detractors, the simply curious, the slightly crazy -- outside the courtroom than in.
During this trial, this is a place where one must expect the offbeat.
Inside, people have to sit and listen to the proceedings in a cramped courtroom, policed by a deputy U.S. marshal known to admonish spectators for shifting in their seats too vigorously. But outside, in the courthouse's wide marble hallways and the sweeping expanses of granite surrounding the building, people are part of the show.
Early on, groups of pro- and anti-Barry demonstrators shared the sidewalk, sometimes razzing each other, as if they were playing an adult, political version of "Nah nah-nah nah-nah."
Pro-Barry activist Florence Smith, leading sign-toting Barry fans, shouted to one anti-Barry protester: "We don't breed nothin' like you here . . . Go back where you came from, you 'Bama," a local slur referring to people from Alabama specifically, and unsophisticated people in general.
"I'm not from Alabama. I'm from here," shouted back the man, John C. Womble. "I'm just using my democratic rights."
Smith, a regular, hardly misses a court day. She seldom repeats an outfit, and greets reporters by first name.
Patricia Little, 51, comes to the trial just about every day. She comes in the morning, waits to get a pass for the afternoon session, then hangs around until then. She is a passionate Barry supporter.
"She called me an alien," said a man with the lilting accent of the West Indies.
"I call all of them aliens," Little said.
"That's all right. Now we're friends," the man said.
Little was in line the day the Vista videotape was shown. But she burst into tears and ran out of the courtroom before the tape was over. "I just couldn't take it," she said. "It was too much for me."
Ruth Worthy, 72, usually clad in a trench coat and tennis hat, was the first person in line the first day of the trial. She has hardly missed a day since. She doesn't support the mayor.
The trial seems an especially big draw for members of the clergy, and not just Bishop George Augustus Stallings Jr. and Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.
In the trial's second week, several ministers announced they would convene a citizens' grand jury to look into the conduct of the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Barry case. One of the ministers, the Rev. James Bevel, made a connection between the actions of the U.S. attorney and the abortion-rights movement, labeling both as examples of "genocide."
Last week, the ministers erected a bright yellow prayer tent in the park next to the courthouse. The mayor has promised to visit every day. Last Thursday, he joined in a less than rousing rendition of "This Little Light of Mine."
Lawyers and law professors are drawn to the courthouse, too. They lurk around the banks of microphones, waiting to be called upon for their expertise.
Still the people come, the regulars, but plenty of transients, too.
Roberta Palm-Bradley, Robert Palm and Tim Bradley flew in from Nevada, Calif., not far from San Francisco, and spent a day at the trial. The also visited Roberta's twin brother, Robert. It wasn't clear which visit came first.
"Why visit the monuments when you can go to this?" Roberta Palm-Bradley said. "This is the show."