Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

The Titans

Kim-Scott Miller and John Townsend
Playwright Robert M. McElwaine and director Jack Marshall stress the authenticity of The Titans, the drama about the Cuban Missile Crisis receiving its world premiere at American Century Theatre in Arlington, Virginia. However, the work may be better as a work of history than as theater. It's episodic, which could be expected given the topic, but it too often stops dead between scenes.

The play lays out the background and specifics of the 1962 incident that brought the United States and the Soviet Union to the brink of nuclear war, focusing on the antagonists: U.S. President John F. Kennedy (Jon Townson), young and determined to prove himself, and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev (Kim-Scott Miller), who rose from poverty to dominate a superpower. Through their eyes, the audience sees the CIA-backed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961, which Kennedy hoped would inspire a popular uprising against Fidel Castro (it didn't work out that way), and the Cold War negotiations in Europe that prompted Khrushchev to order the construction of the Berlin Wall.

After the set-up of the first act, the second act follows the 13 days of the actual crisis. The Soviets placed nuclear weapons in Cuba to deter future invasions; once American spy photos proved the existence of the missile sites, President Kennedy and his brother (and attorney general) Robert F. Kennedy (John Tweel), went head to head with Khrushchev and his foreign minister, Andrei Gromyko (Brian Razzino). McElwaine—whose work on creating the play included listening to recordings of conversations from the Kennedy White House and conducting interviews with participants in the incident, such as former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and former Secretary of State Dean Rusk—incorporates part of the president's speech to the nation during the crisis, and the famous remarks of U.N. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson (William Aitken) that he would wait "until Hell freezes over" for a yes-or-no answer from the Soviet representative regarding the presence of the Cuban missiles.

Miller's performance is the strongest reason to see The Titans. He conveys the necessary solemnity and gravity, leavened by unexpected moments of humor; he also has the earthy Russian accent and ably shows how Khrushchev's opinion of Kennedy deepens from skepticism toward the "young millionaire" to respect and even friendship. Townson has more of a challenge, stepping into the shoes of a man who is still a national icon; he does well in conveying Kennedy's vigor and resolve, and his familiar Boston accent.

American Century Theater
The Titans
July 18th —August 16th
By Robert M. McElwaine
John F. Kennedy: Jon Townson
Nikita Khrushchev: Kim-Scott Miller
Robert F. Kennedy: John Tweel
Andrei Gromyko: Brian Razzino
Adlai Stevenson, Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin, Gen. Curtis LeMay, Marshal Rodion Malinovsky: William Aitken
Directed by Jack Marshall
Gunston Theatre II, 2700 S. Lang St.
Arlington, VA 22206
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Photo: Jeff Bell Photography

-- Susan Berlin

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