(I bet that title got your attention!)
Time again for my Friday Wall Street Journal drama column. This week I went out to the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey to see Of Thee I Sing, and was thereby made happy:
“Of Thee I Sing” is about politics like “Animal House” is about higher education. Written by George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind, who also collaborated on the Marx Brothers’ “Animal Crackers,” it’s a light-hearted, light-minded satire of life in our nation’s capital back in the long-lost days when vice presidents were nobodies (“We put a lot of names in a hat, and this fellow lost”) and ordinary people had better things to do than parse stump speeches. The operetta-like score, by George and Ira Gershwin, pokes similarly gentle fun at the foibles of the elected class, and there’s even a class-A ballad, “Who Cares?,” to leaven the loaf.
“Of Thee I Sing” hasn’t been revived on Broadway since 1951 (in fact, this was the first time I’d ever seen a staged performance of the show), and I wondered whether it might be hopelessly dated. The answer is that it’s dated, but not even slightly hopeless. Though American politics has changed beyond recognition in the past 70 years, you’ll still be charmed by the goofy tale of John P. Wintergreen (Ron Bohmer), an amiable hack who is catapulted into the White House by promising that if elected, he’ll marry the winner of an Atlantic City beauty contest….
I wondered briefly whether director Tina Landau (“Floyd Collins”) might make the mistake of trying to wrench “Of Thee I Sing” into modern times. Again, be cool: Ms. Landau’s high-spirited staging, simply but ingeniously designed by Walt Spangler, is entirely faithful to the letter and spirit of the show….
The Oldest Profession, on the other hand, didn’t even come close to doing it for me:
Meanwhile, back in Manhattan, it’s politics as usual at the Peter Norton Space, where the Signature Theatre Company has launched a season-long survey of the plays of Paula Vogel, who won her Pulitzer in 1998 for “How I Learned to Drive.” First up is “The Oldest Profession,” a naggingly obvious piece of sermonry about five superannuated Upper West Side prostitutes who run afoul of the Reagan Revolution. (The ladies, we’re told, got their start in Storyville, New Orleans’ legendary red-light district, which was shut down in 1917, meaning that they would all have had to be near-octogenarians in 1980, when the action of the play is set. That’s pretty old to still be hooking anything other than lap rugs.) Reduced to penury by the aging of their clientele and the heartlessness of supply-side economics, they die off one by one, each working girl serving up a feeble cabaret turn as she ascends to the Great Whorehouse in the Sky. Did I say blah blah blah?…
I also put in a plug for Rose Rage:
Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s production of “Rose Rage” is playing at the Duke on 42nd Street through Oct. 17. Edward Hall’s marathon adaptation of Shakespeare’s three “Henry VI” plays (five and a half hours, including a dinner break) is set in the locker room of a Victorian slaughterhouse, a spectacular visual metaphor for what can happen when politics degenerates into violence. I saw “Rose Rage” in the Windy City last January and found it thrilling, especially the shockingly malevolent performance of Jay Whittaker as Richard III. He’s at the Duke, together with the rest of the Chicago cast. Don’t be deceived by the running time–“Rose Rage” goes by like a shot.
No link. Do the usual, or the other thing.