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A CurtainUp Review
State of the Union

Everybody here tonight was thinking of the next election. Well, it's time somebody began thinking of the next generation.— Mary Matthews —
State of the Union
Anna Marie Sell and Kyle Minshew. Photo: Elizabeth Shane.
The conversation on the sidewalk has changed since Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse's State of the Union opened in New York at the Hudson Theatre on November 14th, 1945. But the Pulitzer Prize winning play, now in an off-off Broadway revival at the Metropolitan Playhouse, is still pertinent today as we watch a whole new crop of presidential hopefuls enter the 2020 race for the White House.

Here's the plot: charismatic business tycoon Grant Matthews (Kyle Minshew) is running for President of the United States on the Republican ticket. Bigwhig politico James Conover (Michael Durkin), who urged him into the contest, is launching the campaign out of his Washington DC home with his key players on hand. Besides the candidate himself, top newspaper reporter turned campaign manager Spike MacManus (Jamahl Garrison-Lowe), there's Matthews' lover and newspaper magnate Kay Thorndyke (Jennifer Reddish) and several influential friends.

Before the campaign can take off, Matthews' estranged wife Mary (Anna Marie Sell) must be persuaded to join him on the political hustings. When she does, everybody soon discovers that she's cut from the same cloth as her spouse. She's fearlessly outspoken and charming to boot. What's more, she just might be in love with her philandering husband.

The lights rise on Conover's Washington DC study, with Conover, MacManus, and Thorndyke mapping out the presidential campaign. But as they try to work in harness with Matthews, they find that the maverick businessman is a latter-day Sir Galahad who can't be easily manipulated. Even so, they try to guide Matthews through the shifting sands of politics and teach him how to woo the special interest groups, "Italian vote," farm bloc, and more. But, time and again, Matthews turns a deaf ear to his advisors and simply follows his own moral compass.

The character of Matthews is supposedly the fictive counterpart of business mogul Wendell Wilkie. Although State of the Union isn't a bio-drama about Wilkie, its protagonist does call to mind the corporate executive "with a heart" who became the 1940 Republican nominee for President. Historically remembered as the "dark horse" candidate at the Republican convention, Wilkie kicked up a lot of dust but never achieved the Oval Office.

Is the play dated? Yes, but entertainingly so. The audience can time-travel back to the mid 40s and relive the days when the Republicans were scrambling to oust the Commander-in-Chief (that would be Franklin Delano Roosevelt) out of the White House and put in their own man. The text is sprinkled with references to the movers-and-shakers of the day and could serve as a Who's Who in America in the mid-twentieth century.

As good as the drama is, it needs an able cast to breathe life into the script. Fortunately, the 19 actors assembled here are up to the task. The principals, Kyle Minshew and Anna Marie Sell, are convincing. Minshew and Sell never attempt to upstage each other. But they sure are fun to watch as they slip into their characters and uproariously upset the apple cart at every turn of the campaign.

Michael Durkin, as the wheeler-and-dealer James Conover, is suitably urbane. Jamahl Garrison-Lowe performs Spike MacManus with the right amount of arrogance. And Jennifer Reddish, as the whip-smart Kay Thorndyke, exudes confidence. The rest of the cast aren't out to blow you away with their performances but they do make their presence known on the Metropolitan's modest stage.

The production values come without razzamatazz here, but that's fine. Vincent Gunn's resourceful set has revolving panels that neatly morph Conover's study into a variety of other venues. Christopher Weston's lighting keeps everyone in plain view. And Sidney Fortner's period costumes are true to the 40s, and range from the dapper to dowdy.

The play's title refers not only to the turbulent condition of the country circa 1945 but the shaky Matthews' marriage (both spouses were involved in extra-marital affairs). So we get a double-dose of Sturm und Drang in this entertainment, courtesy of the legendary writing team of Lindsay and Crouse.

Directed by Laura Livingston, this no-frills production enjoys good timing. State of the Union isn't a hard-headed expose of a presidential campaign. But it sure gives you a taste of the hustle and bustle of American politics.

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State of the Union by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse
Directed by Laura Livingston
Cast: Kyle Minshew (Grant Matthews), Anna Marie Sell (Mary Matthews), Michael Durkin (James Conover), Jamahl Garrison-Lowe (Spike MacManus), Jennifer Reddish (Kay Thorndyke), Brenda Crawley (Norah), Thomas Daniels (Stevens/Vincent/Senator Lauterback), Matthew Dealy (Bellboy/Solly/Swenson), Doug Hartwyck (Judge Jefferson/Davis Alexander/ Mack), Jon Lonoff (Sam Parrish), Linda Kuriloff (Lulubelle Alexander), Brenda Crawley (Grace Draper), Milton Lyles (Waiter/William Hardy).
Sets: Vincent Gunn
Costumes: Sidney Fortner
Sound: Michael Hardart
Lighting: Christopher Weston
Stage Manager: Heather Olmstead
Metropolitan Playhouse at 220 East 4th Street. Tickets: $30. Phone 800.838.3006 or online at
From 2/8/19; opening 2/15/19; closing 3/10/19.
Running time: 1 hour; 45 minutes with one intermission.
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan based on press performance of 2/14/19

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