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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Of Equal Measure,
Directed with spry astuteness by Leigh Silverman, Jade’s personal story alternates with scenes about the White House political machine which includes Wilson (Lawrence Pressman), his Chief of Staff Joseph Tumulty (J. D. Cullum), Secretary of State Robert Lansing (Dennis Cockrum) and Christianson who becomes head of the Committee of Public Information (propaganda). The White House scenes discuss the political issues of the day, particularly the impending World War I.
Wilson, idealist, intellectual and Nobel Prize winner, was also a well-documented racist. His government segregation policies were not reversed until the Truman Administration. However, he was never a buffoon and that is a serious flaw in the script. It’s inevitable to compare yesterday’s war administration with today’s and maybe Wilson is not the buffoon Barfield had in mind. The play builds to a powerful ending which contrasts Jade’s personal sacrifice with Wilson’s endorsement of sacrifice "for the betterment of humanity." The glittering Lawrence Pressman plays the Wilson part as written and it’s a pleasure to watch him in action. Tumulty, a liberal, is vividly played by J. D. Cullum with an impeccable Irish accent. Cocksum wrings honesty out of the beleaguered and bewildered Secretary of State and Weiss cuts a handsome figure as the one-dimensional character he’s given, a racist who oppresses and sexually harasses his secretary Jade while resisting the love he comes to feel for her.
The scene in which Tumulty is imprisoned and beaten by a Mr. Plank seems unlikely but works if viewed as a picture by Barfield of the pressure put on politicians to fall in line. It’s particularly astute when Wilson enters the jail cell, ignores Tumulty’s "Why am I here?" and simply declares he needs him.
Jade’s personal story, though it follows a predictable path, holds our attention, largely through the sympathetic power of Michole Briana White’s interpretation. Jade’s home life includes dialogues with her kinsman Leonard (Joseph C. Phillips), a reporter, and her brother Eugene. Leonard is a character written to represent a point of view and doesn’t give Phillips, a capable and charming actor, much to work with. Warren has a better shot as young Eugene, the artist who doesn’t want to be a portraitist and succumbs to the flattery of being a White House spy.
Barfield has a sure sense of dramatic suspense even when her content is shaky. She's very much a writer to watch.