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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at the Music Box Theatre, New York

By Robert Simonson

  Julianne Moore

With "Stuff Happens," playwright David Hare assayed the Iraq war from a public point of view, examining the motivations and philosophies of the clutch of politicos who pushed the U.S. and its allies into the invasion. With "The Vertical Hour," which had its debut on Broadway with Julianne Moore and Bill Nighy in the cast, he takes a more personal tack.

Whether we like it or not, argues Hare, the Bush administration's actions have had an impact on each and every one of us, forcing us to take a stance and suss out our true political character. (Everyone has a political nature in Hare's world, even if that means the absence of one.) "The Vertical Hour" primarily concerns the life adjustments of two people, one American and one English. Moore plays Nadia, a former American foreign correspondent whose global view was scarred by the Western world's willful neglect of the Balkans during its years of warfare and ethnic cleansing. After retreating into academia at Yale, she backed the Bush invasion of Hussein's Iraq, reasoning that it was, at least at its root, a positive action to remove a tyrant. For this support, she earned the title, "The Terror Professor" and a reputation of being a stooge for the Right.

The play begin in Nadia's Yale office, where she spars with a student who supports Bush not out of principle but from the instinct of a son of the privileged. But the bulk of the action takes place on a picturesque heath on the English-Welsh border, where Nighy's character, a renowned surgeon named Oliver, lives in relative isolation. Nadia is dating Oliver's estranged son Philip (Andrew Scott), who desires the two meet. It's fireworks from the first, since the sly, smart Oliver is solidly against the war and knows both how to charm an opponent and spin an argument.

There can be no doubt in anyone's mind what side of the fence Hare is on, but to his credit he doesn't make things easy for the audience. The pro-war Nadia is forever seeking out the virtuous act, and, despite her strength of mind, shows great capacity for change. And Oliver, while espousing some very commendation liberal values, all very aptly put, has a messy personal life and a seeming disregard for personal responsibility. One of Hare's points is there's a wide gap between the things we say and the people we are inside.

The story gets a bit bogged down in too many dialectics, a confusion of individual agendas and a good dollop of Freudian analysis. Another draft or two might steamline things. But overall the effect is bracing, both cerebrally and dramatically-Nighy's quirky, angular performance is masterly and Moore, while meek at first, improves as her character's defenses break down. In times such as these, one can't help but be thankful for a playwright as engaged with the world as Hare is. The only regret is we must rely on an Englishman to cast a searching light on our nation's worst period of crisis in four decades.


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