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
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.