×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Both Your Houses

It's not often one finds a 60-year-old play that's as timely as tonight's CNN News. But Theatre 40 has discovered such a gem in Maxwell Anderson's "Both Your Houses," a bitter, cynical drama about the behind-the-scenes machinations in the committee rooms of Congress.

With:
Alan McClean ... Marcus Smythe Simeon Gray ... Jay Bell Marjorie Gray ... Suzanne Goddard Greta Nillson ... Katherine Henryk Eddie Wister ... Will Nye Fitzmaurice ... William Frankfather Levering ... Robert Nadder Sneden ... Jeff Harlan Bessie McMurtry ... Oceana Marr Wingblatt ... Neil Elliot Peebles ... Jonathan Palmer Joe/Merton/Mark ... Patrick Posada

It’s not often one finds a 60-year-old play that’s as timely as tonight’s CNN News. But Theatre 40 has discovered such a gem in Maxwell Anderson’s “Both Your Houses,” a bitter, cynical drama about the behind-the-scenes machinations in the committee rooms of Congress.

In this Pulitzer Prize-winning 1933 play, Anderson portrays a U.S. House of Representatives populated almost exclusively with greedy, corrupt men who are far more interested in lining their pockets than serving the national interest.

Idealism is in pitifully short supply–that is, until the arrival of newly elected Rep. Alan McClean, the son of a crusading Nevada newspaper publisher who has been elected on a reform platform.

McClean is appalled to discover that his first committee meeting consists largely of vote trading. He watches in horror as veteran congressman Simeon Gray attempts to spread around enough special favors to get a key bill passed while keeping the total cost low enough to avoid a presidential veto.

The plot consists largely of McClean’s attempt to throw a wrench into this wasteful and corrupt process.

The result contains hints of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” and “Born Yesterday,” but Anderson’s play (which is set during the Hoover administration) is far more bleak and despairing than either of those better-known works. He saw little chance any of this would change and time has proven him correct.

“Both Your Houses” is a flawed work; Maxwell presents his message in a heavy-handed way, and his characters tend to two-dimensionality. But the dialogue remains fresh and sometimes funny and the playwright’s cynicism perfectly suits the 1990s.

At Theatre 40 under Michael Arabian’s direction, the acting is disappointingly variable.

Among the best are those by Robert Nadder, who brings an icy air of authority to the role of the House whip, and William Frankfather, who brings blustery charm to his role as a particularly self-serving, but unusually self-aware congressman.

Marcus Smythe takes a rather too predictable aw-shucks approach to McClean. The playwright suggests in the later scenes that he, too, has a dark side; specifically, he suffers from the blindness to human suffering one often finds in a zealot.

One hopes the audience doesn’t miss Maxwell’s larger point, which is that all this could not go on were it not for a lazy and/or indifferent electorate. The company has placed voter registration cards in the lobby, which is a not-so-subtle way of reinforcing that theme.

Both Your Houses

(Theatre 40, Beverly Hills; 99 seats; $ 17 top)

Production: Theatre 40 presents a play in three acts by Maxwell Anderson. Directed by Michael Arabian; produced by T. Rusty Rudolph.

Creative: Sets, Mike Pearce; costumes, Better Berberian; lights, Marianne Schneller. Reviewed Aug. 13, 1992. Runs through Sept. 20.

Cast: Alan McClean ... Marcus Smythe Simeon Gray ... Jay Bell Marjorie Gray ... Suzanne Goddard Greta Nillson ... Katherine Henryk Eddie Wister ... Will Nye Fitzmaurice ... William Frankfather Levering ... Robert Nadder Sneden ... Jeff Harlan Bessie McMurtry ... Oceana Marr Wingblatt ... Neil Elliot Peebles ... Jonathan Palmer Joe/Merton/Mark ... Patrick Posada

More Legit

  • CAROL CHANNING HERSCHFELD. Actress Carol Channing

    Remembering Carol Channing: A Master of Channeling the Power of Personality

    There was only one Carol Channing, and her outsize personality was a source of delight to many fans — and imitators. Gerard Alessandrini’s stage spoof “Forbidden Broadway” had many incarnations over the years, including the 1994 edition when an audience member was selected every evening to come onstage and impersonate Carol Channing with the cast. [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Viola Davis, Lin-Manuel Miranda Among Celebrities Remembering Carol Channing

    Viola Davis, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Bernadette Peters are among the slew of celebrities taking to Twitter to pay tribute to late singer, comedienne and actress Carol Channing. Known for her starring roles in Broadway’s “Hello Dolly!” and “Gentleman Prefer Blondes,” the legend of the stage and screen died Tuesday at her home in Rancho Mirage, [...]

  • What the Constitution Means to Me

    Listen: How Things Got Scary in 'What the Constitution Means to Me'

    For a decade, writer-performer Heidi Schreck had wanted to write a play inspired by her experiences as a teen debater. But over the years the show started to develop into something both urgently political and deeply personal — and things got scary. In the Broadway-bound “What the Constitution Means to Me,” Schreck reimagines her speech-and-debate [...]

  • Carol Channing Dead

    Carol Channing, Star of Broadway's 'Hello, Dolly!' and 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,' Dies at 97

    Larger-than-life musical stage personality Carol Channing, who immortalized the characters of Lorelei Lee in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” and Dolly Gallagher Levi in “Hello, Dolly!,” has died. She was 97. Channing died Tuesday of natural causes at her home in Rancho Mirage, Calif. Her publicist B. Harlan Boll confirmed the news. He wrote, “It is with [...]

  • 'What the Constitution Means to Me'

    'What the Constitution Means to Me' Transfers to Broadway

    “What the Constitution Means to Me,” a buzzy Off-Broadway production that counts Hillary Clinton and Gloria Steinem among its fans, is making the move uptown. The play will come to Broadway this spring for a 12-week limited run at the Helen Hayes Theater. “What the Constitution Means to Me” is one part civics lesson, one [...]

  • Choir Boy review

    Broadway Review: 'Choir Boy'

    Honestly, I was afraid that “Choir Boy” — the sweetly exuberant account of a gifted prep school boy’s coming of age, written by “Moonlight” Oscar winner Tarell Alvin McCraney — would be swallowed up in a Broadway house, after winning us over in an Off Broadway staging in 2013.  But aside from the odd set [...]

  • Jason Robert Brown

    Listen: How Ariana Grande Got Jason Robert Brown to Madison Square Garden

    Broadway composer Jason Robert Brown never expected to find himself performing onstage at Madison Square Garden. But he did — thanks to his pal Ariana Grande. Brown met Grande before she was a superstar, when she was in the 2008 Broadway cast of his teen musical “13.” The two have kept in touch ever since [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content