David Auburn's new play The Columnist at Manhattan Theatre Club on Friday night. It was just in the nick of time - this great new drama is playing only until July 8th at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre on 47th Street.
It stars John Lithgow as Joseph Alsop, the Washington columnist who had much influence on American politics from the 1940s and into the 1970s. He seems to have been one of the last great characters of American journalism and politics of the mid 20th century. He was close to President Franklin Roosevelt (and a distant relative) as well as President Kennedy. He used his syndicated column to to voice his strong opinion, of which he attempted to back up with journalist reporting and fact. He supported the US's involvement in the the Viet Nam conflict, including escalation even in the Johnson administration.
The play tells the story of the man behind the columnist. Auburn aspires to tell the story of his homosexuality, which he never publicly admitted to, his relationship with his brother Stewart Alsop, also a writer and sometimes co-columnist, his wife and step-daughter. It also touches on events shaped by the cold war, the Viet Nam conflict, and Kennedy's election and assassination.
Before going in, I didn't research Alsop or even the subject matter of the play. I had seen the local tv commercial and was under the impression that this was a comedy. However, I found it to actually be a drama, although there were some delightfully witty moments. I left feeling completely intrigued about Alsop and his influence, even if a bit shocked.
I find the real life Alsop rather despicable, even if courageous for his refusal to backdown on his beliefs and his own personal trials due to his homosexuality. Lithgow manages to bring a stunning humanity to this man. He deservedly received a 2012 Tony nomination for Best Actor for this role. He is a master on stage and in this case is onstage for almost the entire 2 hours and 15 minutes.
The play is directed by Daniel Sullivan, who brings subtlety and some quite breathtaking elements to the play. The cast is nicely rounded out by Margaret Colin, Boyd Gaines, Stephen Kunken, Marc Bonan, Grace Gummer and Brian J. Smith.
This is a great escape for any history lover, who is especially interested in the Viet Nam or the cold war. I'm really glad I had the chance to see it. Lithgow is not to be missed. Discount tickets are available online via BroadwayBox or call 212-947-8844 and mention code COBXB82.
Disclosure: I received comp tickets from the press agent.