Sunday, November 27, 2016

Back on Broadway

Two shows I caught this holiday weekend--umpteenth revival of The Front Page and Manhattan Theater Club's Heisenberg. Latter is a two-character, minimal set drama about a May-December encounter--she American, he English--with some unexpected twists. Mary Louise Parker, whom I've seen before in Proof, is the extroverted Georgie and Dennis Arndt, the older introverted Alex, who is actually Irish but is essentially British in his manner.

Yes, it concerns uncertainty which is the only connection to the title. But it also tries to open up all kinds of avenues of thought without really opting to follow any of them. To me it was unsatisfying, never seeming to get to the heart of what is going on between the two. Simon Stephens, the playwright, is doodling with the concept and I felt it all came up short.

The Front Page is a cornerstone of the American theatre. Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur caught the romance of the newspaper game in this fast-moving, repartee-filled gem from 1928. There's likely few alive who got to see the legendary Osgood Perkins (father of Anthony of Psycho fame) and Lee Tracy, the original leads.

As a whole, the production is beautiful. The shabby press room of the Chicago Criminal Courts Building and its inhabitants are marvelously presented. John Slattery is the star reporter who is the co-lead, ably supported by the likes of John Goodman, Lewis J. Stadlen, and the still-extant Robert Morse in a delightful, small, but key role.

One review, however, pinpointed the mid-second-act arrival of Nathan Lane as the co-lead, everyone's most iconic man-eating managing editor, Walter Burns, as the moment that sends the play into orbit. And it is. However, that's not to demean the first act and a half, which set the scene in fine fashion.

It's hard to think that anyone doesn't know this show: Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau did it in the movies (so did Adolphe Menjou and Pat O'Brian, which takes you back a few more decades). Heck, Howard Hawks re-made it in the late 30s with Cary Grant as the m.e., and Rosalind Russell as His Girl Friday, the star reporter. 

I do vote for Lane as the Walter Burns for the ages. He's absolutely magnificent. And the 88-year-old drama still has plenty of laughs and maybe even a bit of wisdom to convey to us in a very changed era for the newspaper business. 

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