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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at The Music Box Theatre, New York

By Marilyn Stasio

  Andrew Scott/Photo: Paul Kolnik

David Hare's geo-political pontificating in The Vertical Hour is enough to make an American pacifist reach for his gun. The argument is stacked to begin with, in Sam Mendes's weighted production, which is having its world premiere on Broadway, to make sure the dumb Yanks get the point.

Hare's message is that American intellectuals have blindly bought into their nation's arrogant view of itself as Big Daddy to the world, unlike their savvy British counterparts, who are wise to the sinister motives of that superpower. The playwright's observation of ideological divisions among the intelligentsia is provocative and worthy of stage debate - but not in this patronizing polemic. And not when the fight is rigged.

In Mendes' simplistic treatment, the role of an American academic who supports the Bush war initiative in Iraq is entrusted to Julianne Moore, a Hollywood movie star so bereft of stage skills that she couldn't make a compelling case for the Bill of Rights. Her debating adversary, a contemplative physician with a private country practice in Shropshire, is played by Bill Nighy, a British theater pro with such brilliant command of his eccentric stage technique he could charm an audience into filling their pockets with stones and walking into the sea.

Setting aside the imbalanced casting, the substance of Hare's dramatic argument - which implies that, for the sake of humanity, British eggheads should take pity on their American cousins and educate them in real-politik - is damned insulting. In the vapid views he ascribes to the simple-minded Yale professor played by Moore, the playwright reveals his ignorance of the American intellectual community's urgently vocalized criticisms of the Bush administration's foreign policies, as well as his insensitivity to the profound distress in which all thoughtful Americans find themselves today.

Unlike the brainy and articulate British heroines in Hare's previous work (notably, Plenty), the nitwit in his new play is stuck with lines like: "If the choice is between stepping in or staying put and watching dictators let rip, not least against their own people, then I'm for stepping in." Like the banality of her thought, the inelegance of her language doesn't actually matter by the end of the play, when the good doctor identifies the Freudian "issues" that warped her mind and ever-so gently straightens her out.

And they call David Mamet a misogynist .....



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