Wednesday, October 21, 2009

review of Ed Asner in *FDR*

Oct. 17 at the Fox

In Dore Schary’s boring-history-lecture of a play, Ed Asner was unsure of his lines, unsure of his props and badly in need of a director.
The performance was nearly two hours long, leaden (full of transitions like “And so we came to the election of 1944 ...”) and performed, for no good reason, without an intermission. (You can avoid an intermission if you’re under 90 minutes, in order to keep up the intensity. There wasn’t much intensity here to keep up.)
As for the pacing: It was, um, very, um ... um, slow.
There were long, nervous pauses during which your stomach clenched as you hoped please, let him remember his lines, because I don’t want to have to shift uncomfortably in my seat again.
Asner had told Bobo that the play, a kind of sequel to Sunrise at Campobello (which covered up to 1924, whereas this show plods its predictable, undramatized path from the late ‘20s to 1945) had only been produced once before, back in the ‘70s (with Robert Vaughan, the Man from UNCLE).
Now we know why.
Schary relies way too much on the device of having the solo actor engage in imaginary conversations with imaginary friends (which, when overdone like this, has the effect of making the actor seem slightly loony). Worse, most of the imaginary friends are uncharacterized: It’s just one long line of sketched-in political cronies, pals, enemies and Cabinet secretaries.
I don’t think I learned much about FDR that I didn’t know beforehand.

North Idaho College in Coeur d’Alene used to hold Popcorn Forums, in which local and regional educators would impersonate historical figures in a series of one-person shows. On several occasions, what I witnessed at NIC was better than the show Asner put on.
Oh, there were moments: the frenzy of learning about the Pearl Harbor attack had immediacy (even if picking up the phone and then having it ring can detract a little from verisimilitude. The farewell -- FDR toddling off to Warm Springs in April 1945, just for a little R ‘n’ R -- was affecting.
But, you know, basically it amounted to two hours of discussions with the Secretary of Agriculture.
The show is timely, at least — Obama as the new FDR, at least -- but something as dramatically inert as this does nothing to make the case for activist government.
Asner has a stellar reputation both as an actor (seven Emmys) and as liberal activist (his outspokenness on El Salvador got Lou Grant canceled). But this touring one-man show -- for which he is not even well suited physically, since he resembles Teddy much more than Franklin -- is not doing Asner’s reputation any favors. It’s not a good play, and it wasn’t well performed.

1 comment:

  1. I disagree with your biased review wholeheartedly. Did we see the same show? I think not. But your blog is so predictable considering your previous pre-show article. Why Portland puts up with you, is beyond reason; insider politics...who will kiss your keep from recieving your scathing one-sided diatribes. I found Asner's performance warm, skilled, and intuitive. His speaking to characters, as if they were on stage, brought the script alive. Something you obviously are at a loss to recognize - that of a one-man show turned into a full and poignant theatrical production.