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BOTH YOUR HOUSES

THE BASICS:  Maxwell Anderson’s caustic take on the American Way of Governing won him a Pulitzer prize in 1933.  Dusted off and now staged at the Kavinoky, it is still remarkably relevant.  David Lamb directs a cast of 16, all but two of them men.  BOTH YOUR HOUSES plays weekends (including Saturday matinees) at the Kav through December 6th.  The show, with its single intermission, runs about two hours.

1743518_1243421202350567_6716007592169109512_nTHUMBNAIL SKETCH:  Alan McClean, freshman representative from Nevada, gets appointed to the House Appropriations Committee, presided over by his idol, Simeon Gray.  Since an upcoming  bill funding a big dam project (read Boulder or Hoover dam) directly affects his constituency, the Committee members figure that the newbie will fall right in line.  But no such thing!  The naïve and squeaky-clean Alan is full of reservations:  about the high projected costs, about the business interests who covertly funded his own campaign, about the plethora of earmarks that the various sponsors want tacked on to the bill to fatten their own pockets, or to please their cronies or constituents.  Grey tries to ride herd over this rapacious crew, but he has his personal integrity on the line here, as Alan inadvertently discovers.  In a daring effort to bring the bill down, Alan works to restore every last piece of pork to HR 2007, figuring that the august Congressmen will be just too ashamed to pass it.  I bet you can figure out where this is going…

THE PLAY, THE PLAYERS AND THE PRODUCTION:  This prize-winning but nearly forgotten play is snappy, snarky and clear-eyed all at once.  Think “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington”, but written six years earlier, by Billy Wilder at his cutting best.

David Lamb has lassoed in a lot of Buffalo’s best actors, and even the small roles are tackled with relish.  Peter Palmisano is just the guy to portray Simeon Gray, the old White Knight with a Guilty Secret.  Would that the written character were better rounded, less continuously petulant.  Norm Sham shows his range as the less-than-lovable Solomon Fitzmaurice, a wily old insider with a silver tongue and readily expendable conscience.   All of the various venal Congressmen are well played, with Anne Gayley’s  buttoned up Congresswoman McMurtry (who is looking for funds for birth control for poor young women!) a nice fringe benefit.  Christopher Evans’ Alan McClean is properly righteous, but seems low on both naivete and charisma. Moreover, there is no discernible chemistry between Evans and Aleks Malejs, who portrays Gray’s daughter and secretary, Marjorie, and who is supposed to be the love interest.  Jessica Wegrzyn is badly miscast as Bus, the savvy older secretary who has been dismissed by one of the Congressmen for a younger, prettier model, and who subsequently joins forces with the crusading McClean.

David Lamb has done the community a great service by finding and staging this show, but, sadly, he’s provided no notes at all for the program (why not?).  The set by David King is rather stark, but serviceable.  It’s been well lit by Brian Cavanaugh.  Costumes by Benjamin Streeter Clothing Design are evocative of the period, and generally pleasing.  On the other hand, there’s Robert Insana’s shiny gold-toned suit (!?)…  And hey, where are the fedoras and the cigarettes?

IN SUM:   A fascinating slam on America’s highly problematic political system, and fresh as a daisy in 2015, BOTH YOUR HOUSES is a must-see for serious theatergoers and those with a decided political bent.  None of the enumerated flaws detract significantly.

 

Buffalo-four

*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

Written by Grant Golden

Grant Golden

GRANT GOLDEN wears a number of hats. He has been practicing radiology in Buffalo since 1981, for the past 15 years, with Seton Imaging. Dr Laszlo Tabar, internationally famous mammographer, has been his special friend and mentor.

Grant began The Old Chestnut Film Society, Buffalo’s only film society, in 1983. Now in its 35th consecutive season, the OCFS does monthly screenings of Hollywood classics in 16mm.

He has written the scores (and some of the books) for a number of locally produced musicals, including the old WONDERMAKERS shows, THE OTHER ISLAND, NOBODY’S INN (Alleyway Theatre), IZZY! (Musicalfare), and ME II (Western Door Playhouse). He reviewed local plays on the radio for 20 years--on WBEN and WBFO—before making the switch to BuffaloRising.

Grant and his lovely wife Deborah live in Central Park with their dog Ginger, and cats Ella and Felix. They have three adult children, and now, happily, two grandchildren!

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