Playwright David Auburn brings the same kind of intelligence and insight to "The Columnist" that made his last Broadway play "Proof" a Pulitzer Prize winner. Unfortunately though it has more to do with history than drama. Still "The Columnist" is a worthwhile play featuring a lead performance to write home about.
If you've never heard of political journalist Joseph Alsop, consider that from the 1940s through the 60s, he wielded the kind of power and influence folks like Limbaugh and Beck could only dream of.
A conservative Republican, his columns gained him access to the Washington elite and he even had the ear of several presidents. Despite his right wing bent, he was especially close to President Kennedy, who famously stopped by Alsop's house on inauguration night.
John Lithgow embodies the contradictory writer with great nuance. A Roosevelt relative, he was hawkish on Vietnam, a closeted homosexual, and an anti-communist who publicly condemned Joe McCarthy during his infamous witchhunts. Lithgow even manages to find the heart beneath Alsop's arrogant pompous skin.
Alsop was very close to his brother Stewart, a far less abrasive writer played to perfection by Boyd Gaines. He was also extremely fond of his liberal-leaning step daughter. Grace Gummer ages convincingly from young teen to college drop-out. And as Alsop's patient wife, Margaret Colin's subtle but forceful performance is an acting lesson in restraint.
Auburn gave himself quite a challenge. Hewing so closely to the facts when presenting an unsympathetic character can be a recipe for dramatic disaster. And even with Daniel Sullivan's able direction and a sterling cast, he only partially succeeds.
Still the work speaks volumes about the power of the written word and the dangers of opinion journalism. As written and performed, it's an excellent character study even if it doesn't make the best theatre.