Shape-shifting seamlessly from his Saturday Night Live alter-ego as pouty President Trump to Boy Scouts-loving Secretary of State designee Rex Tillerson, Alec Baldwin led an all-star cast Thursday night in a live performance of testimony from the recent Senate interrogations of four Trump cabinet nominees.
With timing that would have been comical had it not been so chilling in light of the week’s headlines out of Washington, All the President’s Men? Scenes from the Senate Confirmation Hearings of President Trump’s Cabinet was a one-night-only co-production of Britain’s National Theatre and New York’s Public Theater. Director Nicolas Kent (Hilary and Jackie) edited down the Senators’ questioning and testimony of Tillerson, Attorney General-designate Jeff Sessions, Health and Human Services Secretary designate Dr. Tom Price and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator designee Scott Pruitt. (The show was first presented April 24 at the Vaudeville Theatre in London’s West End.)
Kent, who was the longtime artistic director of the adventurous Tricycle Theater, led an extraordinary company that included Ellen Burstyn as Senator Elizabeth Warren, Raúl Esparza as Senator Marco Rubio, Bill Irwin as Senator Bob Corker, Ron Rifkin as Senator Bernie Sanders, Aasif Mandvi as Pruitt, Denis O’Hare as Senator Lindsay Graham, Joe Morton as Senator Patrick Leahy and New Yorker magazine editor David Remnick as Senator Al Franken. Most played multiple roles; the company included Staceyann Chin, David Costabile, Walter Bobbie, Linda Emond, Ivan Hernandez, Nathan Osgood, Regina Taylor and Yul Vazquez.
All The President’s Men? is a kind of testimonial theater reminiscent of The Trial of the Catonsville Nine and Execution of Justice, rarely seen in the age of Michael Moore-style documentaries. On a stage bare but for the C-Span familiar sight of seated participants behind a long table forward-slashed with microphones, Kent and his actors played it straight down the line. The performance was largely absent italics or exaggeration in the deliverance of testimony ranging from standard-issue evasion to surreal, as when Baldwin’s Tillerson – who was both evasive and surreal – prefaced his non-answers to questions about future dealing with his friends in the Russian political power chain with references to his love for the Boy Scouts and the fact that he had just addressed the group’s national convention. And did I mention the Boy Scouts? he seemed to say, often.
Burstyn nearly walked off with the show simply by virtue of her impeccable recreation of Warren’s almost uninterrupted state of exasperation; Rifkin’s Sanders was a bit more tightly controlled. Esparza, too, was superb as a dry but forceful Rubio.
Public Theater chief Oskar Eustis welcomed the partisan audience to the historic venue – a place, he pointed out, founded nearly a century ago by suffragists and long the preferred stage for rallies, hootenannies and rabble-rousing of a left-wing bent. Indeed, the seats were filled with the people whose brows were furrowed as much in disbelief over some of the ideas being espoused on stage as by the unfolding events in the wake of the President’s firing of FBI Director Comey.
On Wednesday night, City Center’s Encores! closed out its season with a spectacular concert performance of The Golden Apple, a musical you’ve probably never heard of. It’s a particularly appealing kind of Broadway flop, all but forgotten but for the one gem it produced, the song “Lazy Afternoon,” which has become a standard, much the way “Once Upon A Time” survived the failure of All American.
This 1954 show, which I’m convinced was Broadway’s first sung-through musical, with no spoken dialogue, took the threads of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey and spun a post-War American fantasy out of it. Set in “Angel’s Roost” on the edge of Washington state’s conveniently real Mt. Olympus, it retells the story of the seduction of Helen (she of the 1,000 launched ships) by Paris, who arrives, Wizard of Oz-style, in a balloon; as well as of lovers Ulysses and Penelope.
The essential silliness of an incoherent plot takes nothing away from the qualities that have made the score treasured by Broadway cultists. Composer Jerome Moross was of the Aaron Copland school, and the music has an infectiously Coplandesque appeal, careering from folksy to modern. Lyricist John Latouche brought a similar 50’s modernism – some Carl Sandberg here, some Robert Frost there – which is meant as a compliment: The lyrics play wonderfully with puns, rhymes that bleed from the end of one line to the beginning of the next, and an energy that’s as trippy as “Go Ask Alice” (as in “Lazy Afternoon”‘s “I know a place that’s quiet / except for daisies running riot / And there’s no one passing by it to see / Come spend this lazy afternoon with me”).
Michael Berresse staged the show, with dances by Joshua Bergasse (it’s repeated through this weekend), with an emphasis on movement with plenty of innocent beef- and cheesecake. The performances by Lindsay Mendez (Helen), Barton Cowperthwite (Paris), ingenue Mikaela Bennett (Penelope) and Ryan Silverman (Ulysses) were utterly charming. But the true strength of the production – and the latest case for the importance of Encores! as if any needed making – lay in Rob Berman’s musical direction of a plush-by-Broadway-standards orchestra playing Jerome Moss and Hershy Kay’s spectacularly intricate, exuberant orchestrations. Earwormy bliss.