Review - Johnny On A Spot: MacArthur Lark
Dan Wackerman, Artistic Director and frequent stage director for the Peccadillo Theatre Company, has regularly displayed a golden touch for mounting crackling revivals of long-forgotten Broadway plays like Elmer Rice's Counsellor-at-Law, Dorothy Parker and Arnaud d'Usseau's The Ladies of the Corridor and, in an absolutely hilarious mounting, John Murray and Alan Boretz's Room Service. But with Charles MacArthur's 1942 political screwball farce, Johnny On A Spot, he and his Peccadillo cohorts attempt their toughest feat of alchemy yet in belief that this 4-performance Broadway flop was an unfortunate victim of the public's squelched taste for satire a mere month after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
And while the production at their new Theatre at Saint Clement's home certainly has all the sharp professionalism I come to expect from the Peccadillo Company - a brash period feel, excellent design and terrific ensemble acting - it's the playwright who lets the evening down. The only solo effort by the famous co-author (with Ben Hecht) of The Front Page and Twentieth Century has a promising plot full of scandal, romance and crazy antics, but despite a game try by the actors there are few decent laughs to squeeze out of this one.
Set in an unnamed southern state whose governor is now running for the senate, the play revolves around Nickey (Carter Roy), a young hotshot campaign manager frantically attempting to cover up the news that his drunken boss has died in a whorehouse the night before the election; hoping to save the beloved man's reputation, stop a nosey newspaper publisher (a gruff and distinguished Raymond Thorne) from printing accusations of foul play behind the funding of a maternity hospital and keep his party in office.
Roy's fast-thinking Nickey is solidly appealing, as is Ellen Zolezzi as the hard-nosed but soft-hearted secretary he loves. Laura Daniel drips drawly femininity as the belle who would steal him away and the 16-member company, playing 25 roles, is loaded with amusing character turns highlighted by Robert O'Gorman and Mark Manley as a pair of back room manipulators, Dale Carman as the mild-mannered Health Commissioner in line to fill the vacant governor's seat and Margery Beddow (Gwen Verdon's understudy in Redhead) as a sweet and silly madam.
Wackerman's swift and snappy production looks splendid with Joseph Spirito's dignified capital building set and Gail Cooper-Hecht's attractive and stylish 1940's costumes.
The evening is never dull, but the three acts are never especially funny either, due to MacArthur's uninspired dialogue. A possible problem, and this is common with political humor, could be that many references intended to be funny sixty-six years ago are unrecognizable as jokes today. Although I'm not certain that line about Jack Pearl would have gotten a laugh in any decade.