Hardly making any waves at all is this new play by David Auburn, THE COLUMNIST produced by the Manhattan Theatre Club at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre which deals with a homosexual tryst (with a tantalizing bid for some bare bedroom skin) in Moscow in the 1950’s between an intelligent KGB hottie (Andrei – Brian J. Smith) and the much older but hardly any wiser Joseph Alsop (John Lithgow) – a renowned Washington D.C. syndicated journalist and its repercussions.
You will find just as much dull information on Wikipedia when you search “Joseph Alsop”. Researched and written by Mr. Auburn THE COLUMNIST reminded me of a high school assignment where you had to write about the most interesting person you ever met. He’s got the facts with some dramatic fiction thrown in but the results are lukewarm, or “tepid” the word Mr. Alsop would most probably use.
John Lithgow bespectacled in black round framed glasses, bow tied and wearing a pinky ring covers all the facets of Joseph Alsop’s caustic personality beautifully. Droll, opinionated, obstinate, feeling every bit entitled, Alsop goes about his complicated, double standard life as only he can do amused with himself every bit of the way.
He marries Susan Mary (an excellent Margaret Colin). He has been honest with her about his “nature”. She goes into this unconventional but not uncommon arrangement hoping to change his habits but eventually tires of being mistreated.
Alsop tutors his step daughter Abigail (Grace Gummer) in Latin, criticizes her too short skirt, and interrogates (rather interviews) her beau Philip (Marc Bonan – who has the cushionyist job on Broadway) and wonders about their sleeping arrangements – hypocrite that he is.
Stewart Alsop (a compassionate Boyd Gaines) portrays his fed up brother who works for the Saturday Evening Post. They worked in tandem before and Joe wants to reunite. But there are those nasty photos taken by the KGB in Moscow that pop up causing difficulties. Who sent them? What will be the outcome?
The assassination of JFK, Joe’s good buddy (who also had his share of sexual secrets) does him in completely. And he has to deal with those young reporters in Saigon. One in particular – Halberstam (the always reliable Stephen Kunken). Things finally pick up when he arrives on the scene. But it’s slow going all through Act I.
The sets by John Lee Beatty are, as usual, excellent. With words that run across a screen that presumably are written by Alsop but which go by fast and without enlightening the script. THE COLUMNIST is competently directed by Daniel Sullivan but it’s the text that is tiresome.
Andrei, having made in to America, finds Alsop in a park and attempts to apologize whereupon Alsop decides to write an damning article that might ruin his ex-tricks life. Will he? That the burning question as Alsop sits at his typewriter as in the opening scene and the play ends. Yawn. Stretch. Go home.
www.thecolumnistbroadway.com Photo: Joan Marcus
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