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The Columnist
Florida Studio Theatre


Jeffrey Plunkett
Florida Studio Theatre is offering the regional premiere of an intriguing if imperfect play, The Columnist by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright David Auburn (Proof). The play attempts to examine the later life of syndicated columnist Joseph Alsop, a major power broker in post World War II America. He was a rabid anti-communist yet vilified the rantings of Senator Joseph McCarthy and was a strong supporter of progressives Franklin Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy.

Such a complex man would seem to be impossible to properly examine in the setting of a two hour play, and so it proves. What the author has done is lay out the basics and let the audience fill in the details. Some members of my party found it a bit black and white, but I found myself filling in the greys to add dimensionality. Among the important issues examined include how damaging hiding was for homosexuals in a pre-Stonewall America, how our involvement in Vietnam defined the 1960s and the nature of power and rigid ideology. For some people, experiencing this play will be a springboard to searching out a biography of Alsop.

Director Kate Alexander has drawn together a cast of actors mostly familiar to Florida Studio Theatre audiences and they deliver an exciting production. Central, of course is Jeffrey Plunkett as Alsop. Mr. Plunkett here continues his string of memorable performances here which includes roles in Sylvia, Race as well as others. He conveys the upper crust, waspish manner of Alsop, also his slightly effeminate bearing. When the character is threatened or challenged, we see the inner steel that propelled him to the heights of power. He is riveting in the final scene, a confrontation with a Russian attache, as they attempt to make sense of an incident that led to blackmail years before. All the supporting parts are well taken, including Robert Gomes as brother Stewart Alsop, Rachel Moulton as wife Susan Mary, Michael Zlabinger as reporter David Halberstam, and Marie Claire Roussel as step-daughter Abigail. Andrei, the Russian adversary, is the most fleshed out of the supporting parts and John Keabler does full justice to it.

I would like to see this play on a setting with multiple playing areas, so the action could move from setting to setting seamlessly, but that is not FST's style, perhaps because the stage is not large enough to accommodate it. They do make scene changes quickly without disturbing the flow of the story. Scenic Design by Brian Prather is highly effective. Costume design by Sarah Bertolozzi is appropriate for the men, but leaves poor Susan Mary looking less the dazzling hostess she must have been; her wig especially needs attention. All other technical aspects work effectively in service to the production.

Florida Studio Theatre can always be counted on to take a risk or two during its seasons. Another theater company, of similar size, not too far away, in announcing its 2013-2014 season said that it was cutting back on risky productions since its audiences had declined to support them. That makes me all the more grateful to Florida Studio for provocative theater.

Florida Studio Theater presents The Columnist through April 7, 2013, 1241 N. Palm Avenue, Sarasota. For tickets and performance information, please call the box office at (941) 366-9000 or visit www.floridastudiotheatre.org.

Cast (in order of appearance)
Joseph Alsop: Jeffrey Plunkett*
Andrei: John Keabler*
Susan Mary Alsop: Rachel Moulton*
Stewart Alsop: Robert Gomes*
Abigail: Marie Claire Roussel
Halberstam: Michael Zlabinger*
Philip: Seth Teegarden

*--Member of Actor's Equity Association

Directed by Kate Alexander
Scenic Design: Brian Prather

Costume Design: Sarah Bertolozzi
Lighting Design: Richard Chamblin
Production Stage Manager: Kelli Karen*


Photo: Brian Braun

See the current season schedule for West Coast Florida

--William S. Oser



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