It's not hard to see why
Not only was Alsop ideologically complex — his lifelong, white-shoe conservatism tempered by his affection for
But Alsop's remarkable journalistic career is not all that informs playwright David Auburn's interesting and involving, if not wholly satisfying, new Broadway play "The Columnist," which opened Thursday night at the Friedman Theatre, a production of the
Given how incremental change can get overlooked until you suddenly understand there has been a revolution, Auburn's involving play is a very useful and potent reminder of how much things have changed for the better, and how the need to hide an aspect of themselves undermined so many brilliant political men of not so long ago. That category certainly included Alsop, who wrote for a time alongside his less testy and more cautious brother Stewart (warmly played by Boyd Gaines), whom Auburn treats as a wise, see-all-sides advisor who didn't quite know what to do with brother's polemical sharp edges.
In general, though, "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,
Auburn is clearly challenged by the need to make Alsop likable, which he does partly by showing us his affection for his adopted daughter Abigail (Grace Gummer), but also by making Alsop a genuine patriot who believes so much in his country that he even, in the final analysis, believes it will accept him for who he is, in totem. That's quite a moving moment — Lithgow's performance is compelling and vulnerable throughout, as far as he is able to go — but "The Columnist" still leaves you feeling like you don't quite have the full measure of the man doing the writing for so many more like him.
"The Columnist" plays on Broadway at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 W. 47th St., New York. Call 212-239-6200 or visit manhattantheatreclub.com