Review Roundup: THE COLUMNIST Opens on Broadway - All the Reviews!
David Cote, Time Out NY: John Lithgow is a natural for this kind of role, and he may be doing his best stage work. His Alsop is a vigorous, contradictory figure, brimming with intellectual fire and just a dash of camp. Lithgow has always combined great strength (physical or mental) with a touching vulnerability, an almost girlish embarrassment flickering somewhere behind the eyes. As self-righteously monstrous as Alsop grows, Lithgow never completely loses our sympathy. And yet Auburn never gets us inside his subject...The world doesn't need more monologues, but you wish Auburn had told this story with a single voice. Let's call this Auburn's sophomore slump. And hope he makes his next deadline before another decade passes.
Linda Winer, Newsday: It is up to the experts to debate the facts about this complicated fellow, a New Deal liberal, a WASP Republican, McCarthy foe, war hawk and closeted gay whose fortunes soured along with Southeast Asia. As theater, however, director Daniel Sullivan's beautifully acted production -- with its seemingly effortless turntable set with the hallucinatory flying typewriter letters by John Lee Beatty -- digs swiftly and stylishly into the intersections of the personal and the political.
Marilyn Stasio, Variety: John Lithgow is a chameleon who can play anything from a TV serial killer ("Dexter") to a charming con in a Broadway musical ("Dirty Rotten Scoundrels"). In "The Columnist," the new bio-drama by David Auburn ("Proof"), he does a brilliant job with Joseph Alsop, the Washington political pundit who wielded immense power through his syndicated newspaper column. Supported by a solid cast, Lithgow finds the humanity in this irascible, obsessive and quite unlikable demigod. But neither he nor helmer Daniel Sullivan can do the impossible: manufacture a play out of the scattered events of Auburn's well-articulated but loosely structured scenes.
David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: Equipped with arrogance, fearsome intellect, vitriol and the punctilious armor of a man forced to live in denial, John Lithgow fully inhabits influential journalist Joseph Alsop in The Columnist. Director Daniel Sullivan brings his customary clarity and focus to a series of pithy scenes that place Alsop near the center of some important chapters in 20th century American political life. But while this is a potentially fascinating character study with no shortage of meaty material, playwright David Auburn hasn't managed to shape it into a drama with a discernible through-line.
Howard Shapiro, Philadelphia Inquirer: Straightforward is the way "The Columnist" goes, in Sullivan's sure-footed direction, Auburn's smooth narrative arc, and a sterling performance by John Lithgow, who makes a wonderfully nuanced Joseph Alsop. Also solid are the portrayals of the supporting cast: Boyd Gaines as his brother, Margaret Colinas the friend he eventually joins in a marriage of convenience, Grace Gummer as her teenage daughter, Stephen Kunken as the young whippersnapping New York Times reporter David Halberstam and Brian J. Smith as a bedroom trick during one of Alsop's trips to Moscow.
Charles McNulty, Los Angeles Times: In tackling more than it can synthesize, the play often seems diffuse. But despite the flaw in its construction - a flaw that is really a conceptual one, stemming from Auburn's somewhat too passive relationship to his material - the work is engaging as cultural history and, to a lesser extent, as a psychological object lesson. As I said to my friend as we left the theater in the midst of a gathering spring storm, "It's not a bad play for a rainy Sunday afternoon." A good deal of the credit goes to Sullivan's finely acted production, which in addition to Lithgow (ideally cast as the peremptory patrician), features a first-rate ensemble.
Matt Windman, AM New York: Static and slow, the play would benefit from some reworking. Nevertheless, Dan Sullivan's detailed production benefits from an excellent cast of stage veterans. Lithgow fits easily in the role. He emphasizes Alsop's temperamental personality, which becomes increasingly fragile as he lives through the cultural changes of the 1960s.
Chris Jones, The Chicago Tribune: "The Columnist" doesn't manage to make Alsop's particular case, and, granted, he was a particular case, quite enough of a metaphor for the American moment. We're not allowed to feel and think beyond the biography. That issue is exacerbated by classy but very careful and gentle production from director Dan Sullivan that uses dignified, measured transitions to capture the affluence of Alsop's upper-class, Georgetown milieu, but never allows Lithgow or his foes to fully let loose. For sure, these were wound-tight personalities dedicated to propriety, and this articulate cast surely captures that element of the national discourse. Still, one finds oneself wanting a couple more of these very civilized scenes - especially those between Lithgow and Margaret Colin, who plays Susan Mary Alsop, an in-name-only wife - to descend into staccato rage.
Keith Staskiewicz, Entertainment Weekly: Despite Lithgow's powerful performance, The Columnist spends a surprisingly long amount of time away from its titular character. There are tangential scenes set in Saigon, backstage at the Pulitzer Prizes, and a lengthy subplot involving journalist David Halberstam (Stephen Kunken) - the muckraking, Jewish counterpoint to Alsop's increasingly obsolescent country-club socialite. Still, it's a testament to Lithgow's magnetism that the scenes without him seem like rude interruptions from the main event.
Scott Brown, Vulture (NY Mag): Alsop helped cajole and bully first John Kennedy, then LynDon Johnson, deeper and deeper into the Vietnam War. Did this shoot-first-ask-questions-never attitude have anything to do with his carefully concealed (yet widely whispered-about) homosexuality? Or with KGB threats to publish evidence of his "degeneracy"? Or just his unshakably aristocratic worldview? ("We don't give two shits what they want to read! We tell them what they need to know!") In The Columnist, playwright David Auburn engages these questions ever so gingerly, ultimately giving Alsop a bit too wide a berth. He wants the man wreathed in mystery-a great dying-WASP tragedy-but he also wants to convey a Britannica's worth of specific didja-know historical info: The dialogue is smart and sharp enough, but The Columnist, in toto, feels both didactically chalky and oddly evasive.
Michael Musto, Village Voice: The Columnist, it turns out, is well written, nicely designed, talky, and a little bit dull. The whole show is Lithgow, who--in his gray suit, bow tie, and specs--gets to the heart of a man full of withering sarcasm, humor, jingoism, and rages. He's terrific. And I'm gladder than ever that I'm out of the closet.
More reviews to come in the morning!