Written by Elizabeth Ann Foster
The Metropolitan Playhouse is a gem in the East Village. The bar uses an honor system and popcorn is freshly made in small batches; you are instantly at home. As I was settling into the intimate and inviting foyer/living room, the call for all “C’s” is heard and I check my program booklet for “boarding” order. We are admitted into the theatre as if on a flight. State of the Union takes us to “fly-over-country” inside the 1948 presidential campaign trail.
Written by producing partners Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, best known for the longest running non-musical play Life with Father, State of the Union opened in 1945. We find that not much has changed in politics. We are privy to insider conversations as friends and pundits gather in the house of James Conover (Michael Durkin) a Washington DC politician to plan a campaign for the 1948 presidential election. The Republicans have found a dark horse candidate in Grant Matthews (Kyle Minshew). The comedy begins.
Kay Thorndyke (Jennifer Reddish) believes that the party’s best chance is a candidate not yet identified with politics. Sounds familiar. Thorndyke is the owner of newspapers covering rural America and is a bit too intimately covering candidate Matthews. Rumors of a scandal would become a hot issue on the trail and the Republicans want to get ahead of it. Their solution is to include the estranged Mrs. Mary Matthews (Anna Marie Sell) on the campaign trail for optics. Let American see the perfect loving couple! Turns out Mary Matthews is rumored to be seeing a certain Colonel.
The Republicans agree to trust each other – only when in the same room.
“Mr. Matthews, most candidates have to spend a lot of time explaining things they wish they hadn’t said. You’re not carrying that weight because you haven’t said very much yet,” Conover explains to the newly minted businessman turned candidate.
Matthews exclaims that he can’t wait to tell the public what he really thinks. This is not how politics works. Rather, Matthews is coached in detail how to pander to voting blocks and when to promise certain favors to ensure votes. He is quickly taught the ropes for winning a nomination by the party. He learns that by not giving out copies of speeches one can always claim he was misquoted for competing interests. Disregarding the Hatch Act and justifying silent money works well too. After all, it’s cash!
Mary is not having any of it. When Conover raises a toast to her the “most attractive plank in her husband’s platform” she blurts out “That’s a hell of a thing to call a woman.”
Mary thinks Poles vote in Poland but is corrected by Thorndyke. Polish-Americans are a large voting block here in America. Mary asks “can you be both? If they are Americans why not ask them to vote as Americans not Poles?”
Temperatures rise as Conover tries to control Matthews, his wife, party supporters, Thorndyke, the press, the unions, rumors, and Matthews’ emerging conscience. The tension is palpable as more surprises are coming!
Sidney Fortner furnishes a wardrobe right out of the 40’s complete with seamed stockings. The ladies’ suits, evening dresses speak to bygone era. Highlights of the show. Music recordings from the era are delightful and add much to set the scenes.
This production promotes robust democratic republic discussion and is as relevant today as it was in 1945.
Grab your favorite Republican, Democrat, or Independent and head over to see the State of the Union for some political satire, human nature, American politics and comedy. As Conover expounds, presidential candidates are not nominated by the people, but by politicians. Voters are too damned lazy to vote in the primaries…politicians are not lazy. Don’t be lazy. Get out and see this production.
State of the Union – Written by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse. Directed by Laura Livingston.
With: Michael Durkin (James Conover), Jamahl Garrison-Lowe (Spike MacManus), Jennifer Reddish (Kay Thorndyke), Kyle Minshew (Grant Matthews), Brenda Crawley (Norah/Grace Draper), Anna Marie Sell (Mary Matthews), Thomas Daniels (Stevens/Senator Lauterback), Matthew Dealy (Bellboy/Solly/Swenson), Milton Lyles (Waiter/William Hardy), Thomas Daniels (Vincent/Senator Lauterback), Doug Hartwyk (Mack/Judge Jefferson Davis Alexander), Jon Lonoff (Sam Parrish), Linda Kuriloff (Lulubelle Alexander).
Stage manager, Heather Olmstead; set design by Vincent Gunn; costume design by Sidney Fortner; lighting design by Christopher Weston; sound design by Michael Hardart; assistant set design, Andrew Connelley; carpenter, Maria Ray Ossino; electrician, Theresa Nelson; production intern Erica Ammerman; production assistant, Jack McKeon; artistic director, Alex Roe.
Metropolitan Playhouse 220 A East Fourth Street, NY, NY 10009. $30 general admission, $25 students/seniors, and $10 children 18 and under www.metropolitanplayhouse.org/tickets, or call 800 838 3006.Performances February 8 – March 10, 2019; Thursday – Saturday evenings at 7:30 pm; Sunday afternoon 3:00 pm. Tuesdays, February 26th and March 5th at 7:30 pm Wednesdays, February 27th and March 6th at 3:00 pm.Opening night: February 15th at 7:30 pmclosing Sunday, March 10th at 3:00 pm. Run time 2:40 minutes with 10 minute intermission.