Sunday, July 01, 2012

The Columnist

The Columnist, by David Auburn, is a smart, straightforward bio-play, with the juicy, juicy starring role of Joseph Alsop, the nationally syndicated columnist who both reported and made history from the 1930s through the 1970s. How lucky for Auburn--and for us--that John Lithgow took the role.

Lithgow has had an amazing career, with success in theatre (plays and musicals), TV, movies, and writing (books and librettos), all of it much deserved. He gets to the marrow of the characters he plays, and no matter how sympathetic he may make them, he never ignores their dark sides. In other words, he gives us multi-dimensional humans in all their complexity.

In The Columnist, he has a role that calls on all his skills and insight, and it's a pleasure to see him strut his stuff. The look on his face when he realizes that someone may actually want him for himself. How he relies on his pride to cover his pain. His anger when he's crossed. His heartbreak when his friend JFK is assassinated. His stubborn insistence that the math proves that it's worth losing 100 Americans in Vietnam to kill 400 Vietnamese.

While The Columnist suffers from the weaknesses of the genre (few people are kind enough to live lives that offer good dramatic arcs), it's consistently interesting, and director Daniel Sullivan keeps it moving right along. The supporting cast is strong. The sets by John Lee Beatty are effective and attractive, and Kenneth Posner's lighting provides impressive yet subtle support to the changing moods of the show. But The Columnist is ultimately about the columnist, and Lithgow is the overarching reason to see this show. If you want to see some exquisite acting, move quickly--it closes on July 8.

(Fifth row; press ticket)

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