Manhattan Theatre Club
(The Columnist Website)
By David Auburn
Lynn Meadow, Artistic Director
Barry Grove, Exec. Producer
Directed by Daniel Sullivan
Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
261 West 47th Street
Margaret Colin, Boyd Gaines, Stephen Kunken,
Marc Bonan, Grace Gummer, Brian J. Smith
Scenic Design: John Lee Beatty
Costume Design: Jess Goldstein
Lighting Design: Kenneth Posner
Original Music & Sound Design: John Gromada
Hair & Wig Design: Charles G. LaPointe
Projection Design: Rocco DiSanti
Production Stage Manager: Jane Grey
Casting: David Caparelliotis
General Manager: Florie Seery
Artistic Producer: Mandy Greenfield
Director of Artistic Development: Jerry Patch
Director of Marketing: Debra Waxman-Pilla
Director of Development: Lynne Randall
Production Manager: Joshua Helman
Director of Casting: Nancy Piccione
Artistic Line Producer: Lisa McNulty
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
April 19, 2012
John Lithgow, as Joseph Alsop, the renowned syndicated columnist, is, at once, vulnerable, needy, and self-obsessed, as well as commanding, forthright, and blustery. He lives in dual realms, a staunchly powerful conservative, engaged to a social climbing Susan Mary (Margaret Colin), who has a lively, glowing daughter, Abigail (Grace Gummer). Susan was informed early on, Alsop reveals, of his homosexuality and personal past, and that relationship seems to bristle with a thin sheet of ice. It was the eve of Kennedyís inauguration, and, although Alsop has conservative roots, heís a fast friend and supporter of the Kennedys and eager to reap the rewards, during Kennedyís terms as President. Boyd Gaines is Alsopís brother, Stewart, with whom he shared a column for years, and his relationship with Stewart also has its dualities. Their families are close, but secrets and betrayals abound, as sparks fly.
More sparks fly early on, in the opening scene, as a Russian spy, Andrei (Brian J. Smith), has been easily seduced in the early 1950ís in a seedy Moscow hotel, and Lithgow bares his chest in bed, trying to woo Andrei for another hour. But, we soon discover, Andreiís work is done, and Russian intelligence has its weapon for years to come. Mr. Smith is a credible agent, with a decent accent and persuasive swagger. But, itís Mr. Lithgow who draws attention, with his efforts to mask his desperate desire, a result of his dual existence, during this rare opportunity...a benefit of business travel. One more significant character, NY Times reporter, David Halberstam (Stephen Kunken), who fought the Vietnam War with powerful columns, direct from the battlefield, confronts Alsop, who propped up the Vietnam War direct from his home. Historical revelations were gripping.
Daniel Sullivan has directed David Auburnís new play, presented by Manhattan Theatre Club, for fascinating nuance, replete with facial gesture and body language that lets the audience enter the minds of Joseph and Stewart, as they banter and argue, from the comfort of an upscale DC living room, designed by John Lee Beatty. Beattyís bucolic cemetery, in a final scene, is just as stark as the opening hotel room scene, and just as pathetic. But, at playís end, Mr. Lithgow seems more emotionally whole, at one with his fate, at peace with his freeing, transparent existence. Mr. Lithgow performs with mesmerizing subtlety, in a range of touching expressions.
Kenneth Posnerís lighting shifts from the dreary dim hotel, to warm interiors, to surreal sunlit cemetery. Mr. Auburnís play offers much more than thought-provoking entertainment. One is compelled to research the Alsop brothers, Halberstam, and the Kennedy Ė early Vietnam years, to further explore the playwrightís setting. Mr. Auburn provokes the mind, as an educator, and the playís inherent themes of military power and its influence on the nationís politics could not be more contemporary. Kudos to David Auburn, and kudos to John Lithgow, for such an exemplary dramatic characterization.