The Columnist, now playing at the The Samuel J. Friedman Theatre charts the plateau and subsequent stumbling of uber-wasp journalist, and somewhat faye dinner party host, Joseph Alsop. Depicted here as America’s greatest propagandist Auborn’s Alsop bears a striking resemblance to James Stevens from Remains of The Day. Both members of the old guard immaculately execute their duties as the world changes around them rendering their life’s work obsolete, their perfection impotent in the face of progress.
David Auborn deserves an award for managing to write about the same exciting time in American history that gave us everything from The Wonder Years to Mad Men while resisting the urge to put any real action on the stage. We commence in McCarthyism where the threat of being black listed for homosexuality looms ominously over our ersatz hero through the optimism of JFK’s inauguration and into to the turbulent 60’s where changing social mores wreck havoc with Alsop’s dogged devotion to an embattled empire.
While the world seismically shifts this way and that not much happens in the play and it’s an absolute delight to watch John Lithgow not do much. He inhabits Alsop so fully nothing is wasted, except perhaps his talents. He conveys multitudes with a gesture and stealthily ages himself as we leap through the years. He prances about the stage the very model of a modern major armchair general hilariously dressing down his subordinates in a well-appointed comfy study. We are treated to much verbal swordplay without ever really entering the fray.
The “Who, What, When, and Where” are here but we’re missing the “Why” in this piece which may appeal to fans of Lithgow or journalism junkies, but beyond that precious few. We recommend skipping ahead to Arts and Leisure.