Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Fifth Column

Photo/Richard Termine

In his introduction to The Fifth Column, Ernest Hemingway writes that "while I was writing the play the Hotel Florida, where we lived an worked, was struck by more than thirty high explosive shells. So if it is not a good play perhaps that is what is the matter with it. If it is a good play, perhaps those thirty some shells helped write it." Like the statement, his play is wishy-washy: at some points, an ironic, self-deprecating look at the lifeless insistences of counter-espionage, at others a cheesy romantic comedy styled in the mannerisms of '30s movies (the play was written in 1937), and also a play about slow, hot days -- Tennessee Williams with the booze, but without the passion. Everything about Jonathan Bank's direction of this play is slow, including the scene changes, and perhaps that's meant to help the text itself seem more urgent -- but it's a failure, even in the interrogation sequences. What once may have been a startling look at the dirty truths of war is now a passive play filled with cryptic remarks and unfinished characters.

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