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November 18, 1994 - Image 9

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Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1994-11-18

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The Michigan Daily - Friday, November 18, 1994 - 9

.'Front Page' still news today

By MELISSA ROSE BERNARDO
Cover your ears, Ann Arbor, and
welcome to the world of "The Front
Page."
Continuing its residency in Ann
Arbor, the Shaw Festival presents Ben
Hecht and Charles MacArthur's 1928

The
Front Page
Power Center
November 17, 1994
play, which in production can either be
griping newspaper drama or an ugly
exercise in crudeness. This production
is an exciting plunge into the dank, cut-
throat and (fortunately) outdated boys
club of Chicago journalism.
It's a world where the only thing
that matters is getting the story. Where
the characters are racist, misogynist, or
- better yet - both. Where shoving a
guy's head into a locker, or beating up
dame is an everyday routine. Hecht
and MacArthur knew this world inti-
mately; they were both reporters in
Chicago at that time.
Since the play premiered on Broad-
way in 1928, it has been revived twice

(1969 and 1972) and turned into a film
three times; the most famous of which
was the Rosalind Russell-Cary Grant
"His Girl Friday" (1940). Last year a
small regional theater turned it into a
musical, "Windy City." Though it is
considered to be an American theater
classic, it is usually only performed in
regional or educational theaters. De-
spite the recent trend of revivals, no
producer would have the gumption to
put it on Broadway today; it is simply
too 1928 to succeed on Broadway.
However, for a play so circum-
scribed in its era, "The Front Page"
holds up remarkably well in 1994, in
this case largely due to Neil Munro's
facile direction.
As the play opens, we begin watch-
ing a group of reporters in the press
room of the Chicago Criminal Courts.
They are waiting rather impatiently for
the hanging of Earl Williams ("Why
can't they jerk these guys at a reason-
able hour so we can go to sleep?"). The
mayor and the sheriff need to hang him
in order to get the "colored vote"; the
reporters want him hung by 5 a.m. so
they can make the city edition.
They stir every so often, buzzing
about getting scoops, clinching inter-
views and checking facts. They smoke,
they drink, they play cards. Andwomen
are not allowed, lest they be thrown out

by the scruff of their necks.
Into this world of broken, worn-
down, contemptible men bounds Hildy
Johnson (Stuart Hughes), the Herald-
Examiner's star reporter. Hildy's had
it; he's getting out, going to New York
to marry his girl, and taking a desk job
raking in a cool $150 a week. But his
managing editor, Walter Burns
(Michael Ball) isn't about to let Hildy
get away, and Hildy doesn't want to
quit being a newspaper man.
Of course, in the midst of all this is
ajailbreak, an escaped con, abumbling
sheriff, a bribery-prone mayor and a
kidnapped mother-in-law. But the meat
of "The Front Page" lies in its fast and
furious pace, which Munro and his cast
dig into. Munro has orchestrated the
show brilliantly; every beat, every
movement is on and clear and moti-
vated; concurrently, he has taken the
liberty of pulling the reins and (wisely)
slowing the show's tempo in a few
pivotal moments.
The actors seem to relish every
moment of conflict and confusion Hecht
and MacArthur have created. Stuart
Hughes brims with charm and school-
boy ambition as Hildy; Michael Ball's
unrelenting Walter Burns is a good
match. Alison Woolridge and Wendy
Thatcher (as Hildy's girl Peggy and her
mother) hold their own in this man's
world. And a whole host of charming
characters deco-
rate the news-
room, from the
dim-witted sher-
iff (Richard
Farrell) to the
whiny hypochon-
driac Tribune re-
porter (Peter
Millard).
Speaking of
decorating the
newsroom,
Cameron
Porteous has de-
signed a wonder-
ful oldpressroom,
complete withan-
tique telephones
and typewriters,
wire wastebas-
kets and scraps of
paper paving the
floor and hiding
the desks. Kevin
Lamotte's light-
ing is a nice
4 ~ complement.
"The Front
Page" is not an
easy play to watch
by anymeans;it's
rude, crude, and
about five things
are always going
on at once. At
times you're not
sure what to
watch, or what to
hear, but Munro's
staging is all the
guidance you'll
need. Remember,
it's 1928; this is a
glaring portrait of
how life was then

A scene from "Born in the RSA," a searing drama about apartheid. Through Sunday at the Mendelssohn Theatre.
'R.S.A.' co,-mes out vCtorious

By J. DAVID BERRY
The perils of living with apartheid
came through loud and clear last night,
as the Departmentof Theatre and Drama
brought the South African drama "Born
in the R.S.A." to the Mendelssohn stage.

Born In
the R.S.A.
Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre
November 18, 1994
Though it at times lacked some drive
and intensity, the production came out
victorious in the end; much of the credit
goes to a lot of fine acting from some of
the major roles.
"R.S.A." chronicles the life and
times of Thenjiwe (Lakeisha Raquel
Harrison) and her resistance against
the apartheid government of South
Africa during the late '70s and early
'80s. Through the use of monologues,
it deals with the people whose lives she
affects and shows the vast array of
feelings about the governmental policy.
When the characters speak right out to
you, you have no choice but to sympa-
thize with them, if just for a moment.
Where the script left off, director
Dr. Renee A. Simmons picked up, and
began adding innovations to help cre-
ate the spectrum of emotion. The inno-
vations that Simmons brought to the
-when it was "niggerthis" and "whore
that," when convicts were hung for
votes, when newspapers were one big
boy's club. We've come a long way
since then, and it's fortunate that we
have a piece like "The Front Page" to
remind us.
THE FRONT PAGE plays tonight at
7 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m. at the
Power Center. Tickets are $42, $38,
$34 and $10. Many good seats are
still available at the UMS box office
or at the door one hour before
curtain. Call 764-2538.

play worked well for the most part,
except for the opening scene. It seemed
as though the production was trying to
do too much by giving an overview of
all of the feelings and emotions that go
along with South Africa. To go from a
very intense, fast-paced opening into
the leads' expository monologues was
too much of a jolt for the audience.
The rest of the music and dance
additions worked very well, particu-
larly during Thenjiwe's dream while
she is held in prison. The freedom of
the dancers and the driving rhythm of
the drums contrasted Thenjiwe's cap-
tivity and personified her spirit and
desire for equality.
As Thenjiwe, Lakeisha Raquel
Harrison was captivating; when she
raised her hand for victory at the close
of the show, every heart in the theater
went right along with her. She kept her
drive and spirit through out every beat-
ing and interrogation, and emotional
commitment like that is a rarity in
much of today's acting.
Jennifer Pennington was also very
impressive as Mia, a lawyer dedicated
to helping Blacks through a legal sys-
tem designed to keep them in prisons.
Pennington did well showing us some-
one who was dedicated to ending apart-
heid, but who was also amember of the
same elite party which was keeping the

Blacks down. Her emotionaly charged
monologue in the second act was cer-
tainly a high point of the show.
JaredJ. Hoffert played Glen, awhite
South African who becomes unexpect-
edly tangled in the web of politics and
ends up turning in his friends and lover
to the police. Though Hoffert had to
fight off some overacting during the
first half, he came out strong in the
second half and managed to hold the
oppositions opinion very well.
Overall, the acting was very good
and carried the show through some
down moments where the lack of"typi-
cal action" started to become tedious.
The supporting cast also did an admi-
rable job keeping the pacing and inten-
sity needed for this show, though at
times it seemed monotonous. Simmons'
direction created a very solid show and
"R.S.A." is a very emotionally involved
and engaging production. Though the
horrors of apartheid can't fully be com-
prehended by people who didn't expe-
rience it first hand, "R.S.A." gives us
all a glimpse into it, and leaves us with
a lot to .think about.
BORN IN THE R.S.A. plays tonight
and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at
2p.m. at the Lydia Mendelssohn
Theatre. Tickets are $16, $12 ($6
students) at the League Ticket Office.
Call 764-0450.

aring sliceof-life of the newspaper business in 1928 Chicago.

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