by David Lally · March 2, 2015
The Man Of The Hour by George H. Broadhurst is the latest offering from downtown’s Metropolitan Playhouse in their season of Progress and it shows just how little we have progressed, 109 years later. Politics were the same in 1906 as they are today. Only the players have changed.
At election time, a great American city’s most powerful political boss and its leading financier need to ensure the new Mayor will do their bidding, specifically by supporting a railway bill that will grant them control of the city’s infrastructure. The man they choose is a polo-playing scion of one of the city’s most respected and wealthy families: well-heeled, charismatic, and certain to step to their tune. Careless playboy Alwyn Bennett wins the job easily, but promises he will carry out his oath of office. His choice to sign or veto is not just between cronies and constituency, but between his political fortunes and his family's reputation, and in the balance lies the faith of the woman he loves. When he defies the string-pullers who think they are the ones owed his fealty, a series of political and personal machinations are put into place. Can Alwyn keep his oath of office and win his lady’s love without compromising himself and his constituents?
The play was a direct address to Tammany Hall’s dominance of New York City life, which lasted into the 1930s, and the character of its biggest and baddest “Boss” is directly modeled on famous Tammany leader Richard Croker, who is credited with having engineered the election of Robert A. Van Wyck as the first mayor of the five-borough greater New York in 1897.
Yes, it is not telling us anything new but it is still remarkable to see how history keeps repeating itself and even today, graft goes largely unchecked, and is almost celebrated in public forums and on social media as constituents gasp and cry how wrong this is, yet do little to stop it.
The play holds up fine but clocking in at almost 3 hours, seems to take forever to gather steam. Director Leonard Peter’s glacial pacing and mostly stagnant movement works against the text. The play only truly comes alive near the end of Act II when Alderman Richard Horigan (Kelly King) comes to collect from our hero, Alwyn, who is now Mayor. Kelly King singlehandedly brings the play to the roaring life it deserves and he completely knocks your socks off. He is fire and brimstone and his stage partners come alive every time he is on stage.
Carrie Mossman has created a simple, yet functional set with few furniture pieces to give the actors plenty of playing space, but it’s squandered by actors bunched together while half of the stage is empty. Sightlines are often ignored resulting in actors blocking each other from the audience. This bunching together waters down the climax of the play, which, needs to move at almost a farcical level with characters coming in and out of rooms at inopportune times and eavesdropping by a door that is “mimed”, taking us out of the moment.
Costumes were sumptuous and eye-catching, as has become the standard for The Metropolitan. Credit Sidney Fortner’s sharp eye to detail that everything seems perfect.
The play might be better read than seen in this incarnation, but go, if only to see Kelly King’s bravura performance. He is the true man of the hour.