Saturday December 16th 2017

“The Columnist”

the-columnist Leave it to American Blues Theater to do their first production in their new home at Stage 773, that will create a true stir. The play, “The Columnist” in its Chicago premiere is David Auburn’s story about power of the press with a dash of sex and betrayal thrown in. It is the story of Joe Alsop, one of our nation’s most important and influential journalists. His column is watched closely by all of the nations politicos and this writer is feared by many, courted by others and of the greatest import, has great influence on those who have similar positions with other papers. Many of you are not “newspaper” people, since our lives rely on the internet today. But back in time, the mid-1950’s thru the late 1960’s, daily newspapers and their columnists were important to the sales of the daily newspapers.

This play begins in Moscow (of all places) in a hotel room as we meet Alsop (Philip Earl Johnson in an award-winning type of performance) and a young Russian aide, Andrei ( Christopher Sheard). From the first scene we are made aware of Alsop’s hidden agenda. We later will find out that what took place that afternoon was not only between these two men. For many years, Alsop wrote his column with his younger brother  Stewart (deftly handled by Coburn Goss), who later left the daily grind to join with the Saturday Evening Post (for those of you who are not aware of this periodical, it was a magazine that gave the world the wonderful Norman Rockwell covers as well as news from a different perspective).columnist7

This production keenly directed by Keira Fromm on a unique set designed by Joe Schermoly allowing the audience to view the story from three sides moves swiftly from period to period as we watch this powerful writer continue to do his thing, creating new enemies and friends along the way. We meet his wife, Susan Mary Alsop ( a wonderful portrayal by Kymberly Mellen ) and his step-daughter, Abigail (the adorable Tyler Meredith). As the story unfolds, we learn more and more about this man and his ego. In reality, there was another step-child, but that character has been left out) Remember, the times were different during these periods and “power people” in order to continue to be so, had to live ordinary or even extra-ordinary lives. Secrets stayed “in the closets” of America.

columnist9This powerful man truly believed that his columns and opinions could indeed change the world and influence the nation to do as he wrote. Auburn takes us deep into this man’s inner being and how his personal life had to remain private in order to have him retain the status he had earned among his peers and the governments that he wrote about. The other character in this play is Halberstam ( Chicago favorite Ian Paul Custer) another writer who was involved during the Viet Nam war. The story deals with the Kennedy years as well as Johnson’s takeover during times of turmoil.

When leaving the theater, my mind drifted to the talk of Russia today and the possible “blackmail” that may be hanging over the head of our new administration. In this story, it is Alsop who has had threats (again, I will not say any more). I found this a very interesting historical lesson. As a writer/journalist myself, I can understand the power of the press. As Theater Reviewers ( I do not like the word “critic”), we often see that what we say has some influence on the ticket sales of the theater we are reviewing. While this is not nearly the level of power that a political journalist wields, it can give one the feeling of true power. This is a piece that will give you pause to think, that is for sure.

On the tech side, I wish to acknowledge the work of  Jared Gooding (lights), Christopher J. Neville (costumes), Christopher Kriz (sound/music) and Alec Long (properties, including a great typewriter that many young people will see as a keyboard with no screen).columnist2

“The Columnist” will continue at Stage 773 located at 1225 West Belmont thru April 1st with performances as follows:

columniust4Thursdays  7:30 p.m.

Fridays  7:30 p.m.

Saturdays  3 p.m. (not on March 4th) and 7:30 p.m.

Sundays  2:30 p.m.

special additional performance on Monday, March 6th at 7:30 p.m.

Running time is 2 hours and thirty minutes with a 15 minute intermission

Tickets range from $19- $49 and are available at the box office, by phone at 773-327-5652 or online at www.AmericanBluesTheater.com

On their website, you can also see the special events and town hall meeting schedule

To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “The Columnist”columnist

Street parking is available in the Belmont Theatre District and if you dine at Cooper’s, you can park in their lot. Valet parking is also available.

 

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