BWW Review: THE WHITE HOUSE MURDER CASE at Holden Street Theatres – The Studio

Article Pixel

BWW Review: THE WHITE HOUSE MURDER CASE at Holden Street Theatres – The StudioReviewed by Barry Lenny, Thursday 10th August 2017.

Jules Feiffer wrote The White House Murder Case in 1970, setting it forty years into the future, which is close enough to now. He wrote it at the height of the extremely unpopular war in Vietnam, when Richard (Tricky Dicky) Nixon was in the White House and the use of chemical warfare, specifically, agent orange, was still acceptable to the USA.

Although he has directed a number of productions, Eddy Knight is best known in Adelaide as an actor of note, but his directorial work has even taken him to England, to prestigious work as assistant director to Howard Barker. He brings his skills and experience to bear on this production, recruiting an impressive cast and creating an insanely funny evening of theatre.

In this play, America is at war with Brazil and things are going badly. On the battlefield, a soldier recommends the use of a new, experimental gas, and he and two superior officers agree but, in an hilarious opening segment, each tries to squirm out of actually giving the order, as the use of gas is against the Geneva Convention and there could be repercussions. There are. The wind changes and hundreds of American soldiers are killed or maimed. Yes, this is a comedy, but a very black one. Read on.

The stage is divided into two areas, stage left being the battlefield in Brazil and stage right being the Oval Office in the White House. The action switches to and fro throughout the play. In the White House, President Hale and his officials meet to discuss what they can say about the incident to the American people, with the knowledge that the Presidential Election is only six weeks away and that the full truth of the affair will be disastrous, should it get out. The political spin gets progressively further and further from the truth into the realms of fantasy.

A big problem that they face is that the President's wife is anti-war. This problem is solved, but replaced with an even greater problem, when Mrs. Hale is murdered in a most gruesome manner. The spin doctors go into overdrive trying to find a suitable way of explaining that to the American public.

Meanwhile, in Brazil, the soldier whom we encountered before, who had suggested the use of gas, is being tended by a man who claims to be a doctor, but is revealed as a CIA agent, looking to pin the blame on the soldier and attempting to get him to incriminate himself. Both men are affected by the gas and over the course of the play we witness their demise as they succumb to its effects. No, wait, it is funny, really.

Lieutenant Cutler, played by Robert Bell, and Captain Weems, played by Matt Houston, are the two on the battlefield, in an absurdist situation worthy of Spike Milligan, or the Monty Python team. Their antics had the opening night audience in stitches.

The most senior of the three soldiers in the beginning of the play is General Pratt, now returned to the capital, crippled, blinded, his voice weakened so that he needs an electronic device to be heard, and with a scarred face, but with his mindless patriotism undiminished. Gary George is hilarious, stomping around with the use of a cane, which he swings about wildly to guide himself. He is only one of the quite mad conspiratorial spin doctors.

The most concerned person is, of course, President Hale, with Tim Williams bringing a nice blend of indecision and panic to the role, reminiscent of Jim Hacker, the central character of the Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister series.

What is a play without a mad professor? Joshua Coldwell fills the bill as Professor Sweeney, the inventor of the untested gas that has been released. Ethics and concern for the dead and dying mean nothing to Sweeney. His sole train of inquiry is to how well the gas worked and what were its effects. Coldwell's Professor has lost touch with reality.

Secretary of Defence Parson, portrayed by Wayne Anthoney, is, obviously, more worried than most. Anthoney brings his vast experience to the role, giving a man who is floundering and grasping at straws in desperation, not that Parson is the only one to go to pieces at the first sign of trouble.

Attorney-General Cole is hardly a tower of strength in adversity. Tony Busch's Cole is more worried about his golf than anything else. Sound familiar? With no attempts whatsoever at mimicry, Busch presents a character who is in it for himself, and is unhappy with his lifestyle being disturbed.

Mrs Hale is played by Anita Zamberlan Canala, making her presence felt in the role before her character is despatched. Canala makes the very most of the all too brief role, showing her experience and ability.

Brant Eustice is the last of the President's men, Postmaster-General Stiles, the only one who shows signs of competence, showing concern, but not panic, and calming the President, becoming the shoulder on whom he leans. Eustice consistently offers impressive performances, and this is one more.

Richard Parkhill's lighting plot is particularly effective in the Brazilian war zone, with creative use of colour as well as light and shade. This adds a cherry on the top of this cake. Tickets are selling fast so you'll need to be quick if you want to see the latest winning production by this exciting new company.

Related Articles View More Australia - Adelaide Stories   Shows

From This Author Barry Lenny