MUST SEEREVIEWSTheatre ReviewsTom Williams

The Columnist

By David Auburn.

Directed by Keira Fromm.

Produced by American Blues Theatre.

At Stage 773, Chicago.

Look at post World War II ‘Establishment’ Columnist details the influence of one on history.

During the 1960’s I studied Political Science and Philosophy at Loyola University Chicago so I read famed columnist Joseph Alsop along with Walter Lippman.  But I’m guessing that theatre patrons younger than 40 years old will have no knowledge of Joseph Alsop (1910 – 1989)?

He was was an American journalist and syndicated newspaper columnist from the 1930s through the 1970s. His influential journalism and status as a top insider in Washington was prominent from 1945 to the late 1960s, often in conjunction with his brother Stewart Alsop. He wrote a column that appeared in over 190 American newspapers. He was a powerful voice of the Washington Establishment and a close personal friend of president John F. Kennedy who frequently came to Alsop’s home for a drink and advise. He was both beloved and feared as he was a fierce Cold Warrior who coined the term “Domino Theory” to explain the spread of Communism in Southeast Asia.  During the Vietnam War, Alsop advised Kennedy to fight the Viet Cong fiercely. But as the 60’s dawn and after Kennedy is assassinated, Alsop suffers as America undergoes dizzying change that catches Alsop becoming embroiled both politically and personally.

David Auburn (Proof) has written a drama in The Columnist that deftly outlines both the history of Alsop’s life including his personal foibles and his staunch defense of his political beliefs. His staunch defense despite the political and social changes makes for high drama. This wonderfully written and effectively stage and directed play (by Keira Fromm)  featured a strong cast led by the power and nuances performance by Phillip Earl Johnson as the columnist Joseph Alsop.  Johnson has the New England elite sensibilities of Alsop with his arrogance and articulate use of verbal acumen and his stinging prose. Kymberly Mellen, as Susan Mary Alsop, is the wife who tolerates Joseph’s closeted homosexuality and acts as he social hostess. Coburn Goss is Stewart, Joseph’s brother and longtime writing partner.

This engagingly interesting (and enlighten) drama speaks to the powerful influence of the media (print press especially) during the 50-60-70’s as strong writers with amazing charm and poise possessed immense power to persuade both politicians and the public to their causes. By seeing The Columnist, audiences will learn that Joseph Alsop along with Walter Cronkite sure helped shape the narrative of world politics.  The most striking element that playwright David Auburn captures and Phillip Earl Johnson so wonderfully conveys is the self-righteousness of political  believers who feel that they must be heard and listened to.

That certainty reminds me of present day zealots like Stephen Bannon  and  Stephen Miller who are influencing Trump toward the destruction of America. But with Auburn’s Alsop, he presents a patriot with worthy ideas. The Columnist is rich in history, in strong characters and with a glimpse into the folks who influenced a change-filled period in our history. Once you see The Columnist, you’ll remember Joseph Alsop thanks due to Johnson’s performance and Auburn’s characterization.

Highly Recommended.

Tom Williams.

Jeff Recommended.

At Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont, Chicago, IL call 773-327-5252,, tickets $19 – $49, Thursdays & Fridays at 7:30 pm, Saturdays at 3 pm & 7:30 pm, Sundays at 2:30 pm, running time is 2 Hours, with intermission, through April 1, 2017.