The Front Page is both timely and outdated, but a thoroughly enjoyable production nonetheless.
Thursday, March 9, 2000
This Ben Hecht/Charles MacArthur comedy, first performed in 1928, is the premiere production of MPC''s Season 2000, a chronological retrospective of 20th-century American theater.
Filled with hard-boiled reporters, corrupt politicians, women who are either hags or whores, and set amidst an atmosphere of red-baiting, rigged elections, and the ruthless marketing of newspapers, The Front Page is at once timely and outdated. Today the story might be presented in more subtle terms, be more self-referential in style, and, hopefully, female characters would receive less of a raw deal. Having said that, if presented with the right comic touch, and with a knowing glance at what is nowadays politically incorrect, The Front Page can be funny and even illuminate our own times for us. Fortunately, MPC''s production, directed by Peter DeBono, is largely successful in that vein.
DeBono does an admirable job of delineating relevant moments, comic moments, and throwaway moments. And that is a large part of the success of this production--it is intelligible and therefore enjoyable. It is also funny, fast paced, and, strangely enough, topical.
Here''s the story in a nutshell. Earl Williams (Michael Lojkovic), suspected "red menace" and cop killer, is going to be hung. Reporters of various stripes and temperaments hang around in the press room adjoining the place of execution waiting for said event to take place so they can write overwrought articles designed to raise blood pressures and sell newspapers. Certain elected officials uncomfortably close to election day want to make sure nothing goes awry with the execution--things like escaped prisoners, governor''s reprieves, etc. Thrown into the fray is Hildy Johnson (Henry Guevara), reporter extraordinaire, who just wants to get out of the biz and get married. Will Earl hang? Will Hildy get hitched? Will the mayor get re-elected? And, more importantly, will it all happen in time for the 5pm edition?
The show was somewhat slow in getting off the ground. This is partly due to pacing and partly to a script that attempts to establish a number of subplots while tossing in extraneous comic moments that don''t particularly drive the story forward.
The seven newsmen--played by Robert Lindall, James Brady, Jason Bone, Skip Kadish, Phillip Pratt, Thomas Douglas O''Brien, and Cliff Berry--do a nice job of establishing various personalities and relationships. Especially noteworthy were Bone as the surly, sarcastic Jimmy Murphy, and Berry as neatnik Bensinger.
Very soon the pacing really starts to clip along and the rest of the show is a wild ride. Both Guevara as Hildy Johnson and Elizabeth Klauss-Guevara as his fiancee Peggy Grant were very fine in their respective roles and had good chemistry. Nancy Kocher as dotty Mrs. Grant played against the usual type of Grim-Mother-in-law to very nice effect. Lojkovic''s Earl Williams, and Jaqueline Colon''s Mollie Malloy--ostensibly the two "criminal types" in the show--are rendered with sweet innocence. They are the only idealistic characters in the play.
But the funniest, and most subversive scenes are those between the mayor (Michael Robbins) and Sheriff Hartman (Bill Lindsay), and Hildy''s ruthless and frenetic editor Walter Burns (Gary Bolen) and anybody else. All three actors display wonderful timing, and each can finesse a line, a look, or a double take for maximum comic effect. It is in them that we recognize our own times, our own politicians, our own subterfuges--and we laugh at the recognition.
The set design (Patrick McEvoy) was well detailed with wood wainscotting and grimy white walls--even the windows were properly streaked. Constance Gamiere''s costumes were well appointed and evoked the era.