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|A CurtainUp Review
Night and Day
You're all doing it to impress each other. . .the winner isn't democracy -- just business. . .
--Ruth Carson, about the newsmen who risk their lives to provide the public with what's going on in the emerging African nation, where her husband Georffrey is trying to hold on to his mining interests.
It begins with two kinds of music, Cole Porter's "Night and Day" and the unmistakable clickety-click-click of a manual typewriter. It ends with another Porter song, "The Lady Was a Tramp."
With these bookends for his revival of another Night and Day, Tom Stoppard 1978 play about three journalists tracking a conflict between an African dictator and a rebel general, director Ernest Johns has turned a potential weakness into strength. The old songs and the dinosaur sound of a manual typewriter not only create a nice period atmosphere but underscore relevant parallels. The actions of the play's only female character fit Porter's delectably trampy lady. The Idi Amin inspired dictator could be any number of past and future heads of African states and journalism, for all its high tech advances, continues to pose the same tricky issues about news as more money minded than high-minded.
Mr. Johns is also well served by his cast, which features three of the Company's best younger actors who, with the aid of Amy Stoller's coaching, sounds properly British. To further enhance this atmospheric production, Robert J. Martin has designed the play's action center, the home of colonialists Geoffrey and Ruth Carson (Cocteau veteran Harris Berlinsky and Angela Madden), with just enough jungle-flavored modernity. The rust-orange scrim walls echo the sense that there are no walls solid enough to keep out the watchful journalists -- or those who would and do manipulate them.
Night and Day, considered by many to be a transitional play, might best be described as a comic drawing room thriller. In fact, when the play debuted one critic wrote that Mr. Stoppard seemed to be "holding on to his own mad cap while trying on Bernard Shaw's dialectical beard." While it lacks the razzle-dazzle verbal gymnastics of the playwright's later work, Night and Day is nevertheless filled with incisive dialogue. The use of the inner and outer Ruth whose asides to the audience add humor and embody the theme of humankind as a minor player in the greater scheme of things is a pure Stoppardian invention; and Angela Madden is a worthy successor to Maggie Smith, who played Ruth in the London premiere, and Diana Riggs who was Ruth in New York.
The crux of the plot revolves around a never seen Soviet-supported general whose dispute with the decidedly undemocratic President Mageeba (an at once funny and scary Jolie L. Garrett) is about to erupt into a full scale war. This brings scoop-hungry journalists -- George Guthrie or GeeGee, the weary photographer (the consistently reliable Tim Deak); Richard Wagner (Jason Crowl, who gets better with each Cocteau assignment), the cynical veteran reporter; and Jacob Milne (Cocteau intern Taylor Bowyer, in an impressive debut), an idealistic stringer -- to the household of Geoffrey Carsons, who owns the township's only working telex and control of whose mines drive the conflict! Intrigue leads to mayhem with everyone's little games ending up, like the inner Ruth, overwhelmed by the events around them and the only non-game player, Milne, suffering the most tragic fate of all. To complicate matters, the unwitting hostess and Wagner are not strangers, though she now finds young Milne's idealism a far more potent aphrodisiac. Another Carson, Ruth and Geoffrey's son Alastair (Justin Spiegel), adds a familial and familiar element to the situation.
As already stated the details about getting a story and getting it in on time may be technically outdated, but the arguments about the freedom and importance of the press hit the mark more than ever.
"I'm a fireman who goes to fires. I don't file prose. I file facts", says Dick the cynic. But the importance and control of those facts is another matter. Besides Ruth's bitter tirade after tragedy strikes (see quote at the top) there are also some sly quips from the dictator. He defends his style of a "relatively free press" as one "edited by one of my relatives" with the accusation that "Freedom of the press is freedom to gossip."
The inner-outer Ruth setup yields some other Stoppard curve balls: When Ruth's inner self fills us in on her affair with Wagner she declares that her infidelity is not without pangs of "P.C.R." or "post coital remorse." In a priceless little interchange between husband and wife, she responds to his "I don't know what you're talking about" with "that's the part that's truly talking out loud."
Though not as big a production as the Cocteau's last Stoppard revival, On the Razzle, Night and Day is clearly well worth a trip to the East Village. Like Razzle it is another milestone in the company's growth and change. Razzle initiated David Fuller's reign as the Cocteau's producing artistic director and was a triumphant directorial swan song for his predecessor Scott Shattuck. Now Night and Day, marks the impressive Cocteau Rep debut for Ernest Johns and continues the company's showcasing of talented young repertory members.
On the Razzle
The Cradle Will Rock
Our Tom Stoppard page