Tom Stoppard’s Night And Day
The American Conservatory Theatre has opened their 36th season with Artistic Director Carey Perloff’s production of Night and Day, Tom Stoppard’s dark comedy about the terrors and romance of international journalism. The British playwright wrote the play in 1978, and it premiered at the Phoenix Theatre in London with Diana Rigg. We saw the production later that year in London when Susan Hampshire took over the role of Ruth Carlson. Maggie Smith played the role on Broadway. At the time, this play was very relevant to the world, with revolutions and coups going on in the African nations. Even though there are still coups on that continent, the play seems a little dated.
The story takes place in the fictional country of Kambawa, a former British colony. A revolution has broken out between undemocratic President Mageeda (Steven Anthony Jones) and rebel forces led by a Soviet-supported general who currently holds a large copper mine owned by British industrialist Geoffrey Carson (Anthony Fusco). Meeting in the well-appointed home of Geoffrey and his wife Ruth (Rene Augesen) are three British journalists, since the industrialist has the only working telex machine linking London. Skeptical reporter Dick Wagner (Marco Barricelli), young foolhardy greenhorn freelance reporter Jacob Milner (T. Edward Webster) and caustic photographer George Gunthrie (Paul Whitworth) are all out to get the scoop of interviewing President Mageeda for the London Weekly Globe. Only Wagner finds out through the very young son of the Carson's (Harley Grandin) that Mageeda is coming to the Carson’s home later in the evening. He sends both Milner and Gunthrie on a wild goose chase that has disastrous results.
The first act involves both romance and a discussion of questions of journalism and post post-colonial politics. The romance centers on Ruth and Wagner, who had a brief fling in London. Ruth is also enamored with Jacob. That first act is much more focused and dramatic, especially when Mageeda shows up. His role is modeled after Idi Amin. There is a little song that seems out of place in this act: Ruth sings the first bars of Cole Porter’s “The Lady is a Tramp” while Wagner bangs in unison on a manual typewriter.
Night And Day has some incisive dialogue but it is not up to to the playwright's brilliant plays like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Travesties, Arcadia and The Invention of Love.
Outstanding in the drama is Rene Augesen, the cast's only female. She is priceless in the role of the unfulfilled wife. Her insinuations and witty remarks give the audience relief from the talk about current affairs of the so called free press. Marco Barricelli as the veteran reporter has some problems with his accent, which started out to be British but in reality was supposed to be Australian. Also, he is occasionally very difficult to hear, especially during the first fifteen minutes of the play. Royal Shakespearean Company veteran Paul Whitworth is solid as the seasoned war photographer.
T. Edward Webster is able to portray a warmly intense young reporter on his first major assignment. Steven Anthony Jones brings authority to his big scene as the devious Mageeba. Anthony Fusco also gives a good performance as the owner of the mine. Rounding out the cast is the small role performed by ACT’s core company actor Gregory Wallace. He is mostly silent as Carson’s servant, waiting to control his own destiny when all colonials would be ousted.
Set designer Carey Perloff gives the play a top drawer physical production. The set revolves from a veranda to a brilliantly appointed African colonial living room. This is basically the same set that I saw in the London production in 1978.
Night and Day plays through October 20 at the Geary Theatre in San Francisco. Tickets are $15 - $31. For tickets please call 415-749-2228 or visit www.act-sfbay.org. The next production will be Lackawanna Blues by Ruben Santiago-Hudson. It opens on October 27, 2002