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LATW Review: State of the Union
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State of the Union

By Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse

Authorized adaptation for today by Sidney Blumenthal

@ 1997 by LA Theaterworks

 

This LA theater works production is an adaptation/updating done for the 50th Anniversary of the Pulitzer prize winning political farce. The play is probably best known as the source of the 1948 Tracy/Hepburn film State of the Union, directed by Frank Capra. For those interested in finding out more about this play by reading about the movie version these two sites have reviews and a rundown of the plot: http://movies2.nytimes.com/gst/movies/movie.html?v_id=46714 http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0040834/#comment.

 

The update of this play proves above all that human nature and politics are both timeless – and timelessly funny.  Changes of names, situations and topical references do nothing to water down or even alter the basic story. Despite all the external evidence to the contrary, the situation in which 1946 industrialist Grant Matthews finds himself in is not really that different from the one faced by microchip manufacturer Grant Matthews in 1996.

 

Grant Matthews (David Selby) in this version is no longer a flamboyant airplane builder; a cheerful daredevil who jumps out of planes, but the socially active founder of a wildly successful microchip corporation.  Ostensibly a Republican, he has no great love for the policies of either party.  At the time the play opens he had been speaking out both publicly and privately about his concern and frustration on how politics and the divisiveness used by politicians has been hurting the country.

 

Kay Thorndyke  (Melinda Peterson) a Katherine Graham like owner of newspaper and TV news syndicates -- and Matthews' mistress -- and her political ally Jim Conover, (Dakin Matthews) a power player in the Republican party,  see him as new blood, a viable dark horse candidate for the upcoming Presidential nomination. This is a man with no political background to live down, but a respected businessman with common sense, vision and a record of integrity.  (Think Ross Perot sans bizarre behaviour and Ferenghi ears.)

 

But there is one fly in the proverbial ointment -- the rumors about Matthews and Mrs. Thorndyke.  What would be a minor embarrassment for a private individual like a chip manufacturer would be potential disaster for a presidential candidate.  So Matthews is talked into bringing his estranged wife, Mary (Lindsay Crouse) along for a series of speeches worked in with a tour of his plants.  It’s from this circumstance that the rest of plot comes forth. The one fly breeds and becomes two; traveling together under these circumstances brings the Matthews’ closer together. And the more they remember the idealistic young baby-boomers they used to be, the less and less Grant’s public opinions are what Conover and Mrs. Thorndyke want them to be. Thus we end up with the farcical aspects of a man of integrity caught between his ethics and political expediency, between the devil and the deep blue sea and facing the unenviable truth that the price of motivating the country for a greater good might be the principles which made it an ambition of his in the first place.

 

First of all high praise has to be given to the “adaptation for today by Sidney Blumenthal.”  The play has been  “opened up” from the original three act/setting structure that both play and movie used, giving us more settings and more of a feel for the Matthews’.  The topical references are marvelous, and sprinkled nicely throughout the play, rather than delivered in large, undigestible lumps. Much of the humor is also based on the audience’s knowledge of the people and circumstances mentioned, though in 2005 even they are now dated.

 

The performances are strong across the board, and everyone seems to have created their own characterization; at least I didn’t spot any blatant copying of those from the movie.  Then again, after hearing a number of LA Theaterworks broadcasts with various actors, the impression that comes across is that their actors are of too high a caliber to resort to such tricks.  Selby turned in his usual workmanlike performance as Grant Matthews, as did Dakin Mathews as Conover and Lindsay Crouse as Mary Mathews.  These three characters’ scenes both together and separately are the backbone of the play, and the meshing of their performances is a good part of what makes this production work.  A good part of this can probably be credited to the director, John DeLancie.  The name will probably be familiar to many people through his work as an actor.  A solid character actor, he has guest starred on many television shows.  He is best known for two specific, very different roles.  He played the recurring role of Q on at least two of the more recent Star Trek series and before that he spent many years playing psychic Eugene Bradford on the daytime soap Days of our Lives.

 

review @2005 by JMW and may not be reprinted in any medium without prior written permission

This website is @2004-2013 by JMW. No original article or photograph may be reprinted in any form without prior written permission from JMW