Theater & Dance
Review
"The Columnist"

By: David Auburn
Produced by: Dragon Productions Theatre
Featuring: Randy Hurst (Joseph Alsop), Mary Moore Stewart (Susan Mary Alsop), Gary Mosher (Stewart Alsop), Casey Robbins (Andrei/Young Man), Camille Brown (Abigail), Drew Reitz (Halberstam) and Gino Vellandi (Philip)
Directed by: Brandon Jackson
Running time: 120 minutes, one intermission
When: May 29 through June 21, 2015
Where: The Dragon Theatre, 2120 Broadway Street at Theatre Way, Redwood City, California
Tickets: $10-$35 (discounts available). $200 for VIP box for four. Visit http://dragonproductions.net

Moore, Brown, Mosher, Hurst
James Kasyan / Dragon Productions Theatre
The night of John F. Kennedy's inauguration, at Joseph Alsop's home, in "The Columnist," at Dragon Productions Theatre in Redwood City. From left are Mary Moore as Susan Mary Alsop, Camille Brown as Abigail, Gary Mosher as Stewart Alsop, and Randy Hurst as Joe Alsop. The show runs May 29 through June 21, 2015. Visit http://dragonproductions.net.
The best and the brightest
seen in 'The Columnist'
Dragon Theatre staging David Auburn's fascinating play about Joseph Alsop and his times
June 6, 2015

Randy Hurst is so good, so charismatic, so powerful in his performance as Joseph Alsop in "The Columnist" at Dragon Productions Theatre, that it actually pains me to have to criticize any element of his performance.

But it has to be noted that on the night I saw him — the second public performance, on May 30 — Hurst stumbled over his lines a few times. Maybe five or six times, and it was a real surprise, because when he wasn't hiccoughing through some speech, Hurst was brilliant in bringing a very complex and important character to life on the Dragon's painted-into-the-corner stage. Educated guess: By the time you go see this play, which would be a good idea, Hurst will be as smooth with his lines as warm butter.

Alsop was a very important and very well-connected political columnist, starting in the 1930s. He was a real journalist, actually traveling the world and digging up facts. He interrupted his career to serve in the military during World War II (during which he was, for a while, a prisoner of the Japanese in Hong Kong), then became hugely influential with a column in the 1950s, '60s and '70s.

It was the Vietnam War that hurt him professionally, as it did so many others. He'd been a friend of fellow Harvard grad John F. Kennedy, who had increased American involvement in IndoChina, and relied heavily on the opinions of Gen. William Westmorland and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, for his columns.

Meanwhile, younger journalists, such as David Halberstam and Neil Sheehan, were telling a very different story about the Vietnam War, and it turned out, in the long run, that they were more correct than Alsop. Even McNamara, years later, conceded his errors about Vietnam, in his book, "In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam."

Hurst's performance as Alsop is richly brilliant. He brings to us an Alsop whose ego was as strong as steel, someone fully sure of himself past the point of arrogance, yet reveling in the experience of being alive and politically powerful.

The play, by David Auburn, is fascinating for its portrayal of those decades of American history.

It has, as a sort of subplot, some details of Alsop's life as a closeted gay man. The play opens, in fact, with a scene of a young gay Russian getting dressed after having had sex with Alsop in Moscow.

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What I found interesting about that subplot was how Alsop married a woman, Susan Mary Jay, to have a social partner, someone to sit at the other end of the table at their many social events. Mary Price Moore is wonderful to watch in the role, wearing the fancy dinner gowns with considerable beauty, and holding her own socially as one would expect from a landed descendant of one of the founding fathers. The dynamics between her and Joseph are fascinating and telling, and very well performed. He behaves very badly, yet she remains lovingly stoic and keeps her head up. And eventually divorces him.

Gary Mosher is excellent as Joseph's brother Stewart Alsop, who had been Joseph's column-writing partner for some time before striking off on his own. He brings a kind of groundedness to the family, which the high-flying Joseph needs more than he knows.

Drew Reitz is suitably dogged and respecting as David Halberstam, who was correct about Vietnam when Alsop was wrong. Camille Brown is charming as Abigail, daughter of Susan Mary Jay. Gino Vellandi is fine as Abigail's date. Casey Robbins is solid as the gay Russian.

Speaking of the gay Russian, in the play and in real life, the KGB had photographed that tryst in Moscow, and attempted to use the photos to blackmail and embarrass Alsop.

Which came to nothing. Alsop may have been wrong about Vietnam, believing all that nonsense about "The Domino Theory" and the need to keep feeding American soldiers into the conflict, but he was not one to let the KGB or even J. Edgar Hoover's FBI intimidate him.

The man had brass balls.

Director Brandon Jackson put that fine cast together, and a good creative team. I particularly liked choices made by costume designer Katherine Halcrow. Scenic designer Jeff Swan does all right with that unusual corner stage, although I found the color choices rather drab.

Email John Orr at johnorr@regardingarts.com

Mosher, Reitz
James Kasyan / Dragon Productions Theatre
Gary Mosher as Stewart Alsop, left, and Drew Reitz as David Halberstam in "The Columnist," at Dragon Productions Theatre in Redwood City. The show runs May 29 through June 21, 2015. Visit http://dragonproductions.net.
Moore, Hurst
James Kasyan / Dragon Productions Theatre
Mary Moore as Susan Mary Alsop, left, and Randy Hurst as Joseph Alsop in "The Columnist," at Dragon Productions Theatre in Redwood City. The show runs May 29 through June 21, 2015. Visit http://dragonproductions.net.


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