×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

A Fair Country

Oddly, though, "A Fair Country" is not a career-making play. Its parts are greater than the whole, which in the end seems to be a work the playwright has struggled with through several incarnations over many years and still not got right -- which in fact it is. And while Baitz has tackled such issues as the ethical imperatives of publishing ("The Substance of Fire"), corporate exploitation of the Third World ("Three Hotels") and the insidious corruption that poverty can inspire ("The End of the Day") deftly and with fresh insight, the conclusions reached in "A Fair Country"-- apartheid is bad, American diplomacy is inevitably corrupt -- seem atypically simplistic and somewhat old-hat.

With:
Cast: Matt McGrath (Gil Burgess) , Judith Ivey (Patrice Burgess), Teagle Bougere (Hilton), Laurence Luckinbill (Harry Burgess), Jack Davidson (Ellsworth Hodges), Maduka Steady (Victor), Dan Futterman (Alec Burgess), Richard Clarke (Gerrit Van Eden), Katie Finneran (Carly Fletcher). Jon Robin Baitz writes wonderful parts for actors -- roles they can really sink their teeth into. This is as much because his plays have significant moral concerns as because he's an exceptionally gifted writer with an amazing ear for the way all kinds of people actually speak. "A Fair Country" is no exception: Every role in this blistering account of a family ruined by betrayal is fully realized and passionately drawn, and so every one of the nine actors in it is giving a career-making performance, chief among them Judith Ivey , Laurence Luckinbill and Matt McGrath.

Oddly, though, “A Fair Country” is not a career-making play. Its parts are greater than the whole, which in the end seems to be a work the playwright has struggled with through several incarnations over many years and still not got right — which in fact it is. And while Baitz has tackled such issues as the ethical imperatives of publishing (“The Substance of Fire”), corporate exploitation of the Third World (“Three Hotels”) and the insidious corruption that poverty can inspire (“The End of the Day”) deftly and with fresh insight, the conclusions reached in “A Fair Country”– apartheid is bad, American diplomacy is inevitably corrupt — seem atypically simplistic and somewhat old-hat.

Luckinbill plays Harry Burgess, a diplomat stalled at mid-career and desperate to exchange his job in South Africa for a cushy European post. In Durban, he pushes a liberal arts agenda, importing, for example, a production of “Idiot’s Delight” performed by a troupe of ex-convicts from San Francisco.

Ivey is his wife, Patrice, a volatile mix of pent-up rage and frustration, having given up her own artsy career only to end up in this limbo that is intellectually boring but a political powder keg.

They have two sons; the elder, Alec (Dan Futterman), is an activist and journalist, and the younger, Gil (McGrath), is a sensitive teenager not so well-defined except insofar as he is his mother’s protector and the author’s obvious stand-in.

The opening scene is set in an archaeological dig in Mexico, in 1987, where Patrice has tracked down Gil after many years of self-imposed exile; both his father and his brother are long dead.

The story then shifts back to Durban nine years earlier and the sequence of events that will rip this family apart, leaving it forever altered. Events hinge on Harry’s acceptance of a job with the Voice of America that will send the family to the Hague. But there’s a catch that involves the CIA, and in examining the ways in which political betrayals invariably have personal consequences, “A Fair Country” recalls both Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons” and Athol Fugard’s “A Lesson From Aloes.”

Designer Tony Walton has worked a particular kind of magic on the small Mitzi Newhouse stage, as five different and fully realized locales are assembled and replaced with uncommon ease. But even more spectacular is the work of director Daniel Sullivan with this ensemble: It’s seamless.

Luckinbill has the lumpish grace of a man forced by his own mediocrity to compromise his soul. Ivey has her first great role in years as the explosively funny Patrice. And after years as New York’s funniest neurotic teenager, McGrath finally has a part that allows him to grow up.

Coming of age is what “A Fair Country” is all about. This play is clearly close to Baitz’s heart; it has about it the feel of an attempt at settling scores. It’s about the terrible ways in which families can stifle and ultimately blot out optimism, and to that extent it’s mindful of another Lincoln Center Theater play, John Guare’s “Four Baboons Adoring the Sun.” Like that play, “A Fair Country” is ambitious and moving; that it’s also unfinished is almost irrelevant.

A Fair Country

Production: A Fair Country (Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, New York City; 291 seats; $ 37.50) A Lincoln Center Theater presentation of a play in two acts by Jon Robin Baitz. Directed by Daniel Sullivan.

Crew: Sets, Tony Walton; costumes, Jane Greenwood; lighting, James F. Ingalls; music, Robert Waldman; sound, Scott Lehrer; stage manager, Roy Harris; casting, Daniel Swee; production manager, Jeff Hamlin. Artistic director, Andre Bishop; executive producer, Bernard Gersten. Opened, reviewed Feb. 19, 1996. Running time: 2 hours.

With: Cast: Matt McGrath (Gil Burgess) , Judith Ivey (Patrice Burgess), Teagle Bougere (Hilton), Laurence Luckinbill (Harry Burgess), Jack Davidson (Ellsworth Hodges), Maduka Steady (Victor), Dan Futterman (Alec Burgess), Richard Clarke (Gerrit Van Eden), Katie Finneran (Carly Fletcher). Jon Robin Baitz writes wonderful parts for actors -- roles they can really sink their teeth into. This is as much because his plays have significant moral concerns as because he's an exceptionally gifted writer with an amazing ear for the way all kinds of people actually speak. "A Fair Country" is no exception: Every role in this blistering account of a family ruined by betrayal is fully realized and passionately drawn, and so every one of the nine actors in it is giving a career-making performance, chief among them Judith Ivey , Laurence Luckinbill and Matt McGrath.

More Film

  • Aniara review

    Film Review: 'Aniara'

    Each year brings an example or three of purported “thinking person’s science-fiction” films, a category that pretty much embraces anything not centered on monsters or lightsaber battles. These efforts are often more admirable in theory than result, but “Aniara” — the first film drawn from Nobel Prize-winning Swedish poet Harry Martinson’s 1956 cycle of 103 [...]

  • Avengers: Endgame

    'Avengers: Endgame' Reviews: What the Critics Are Saying

    It’s been a long year for Marvel fans since the release of “Avengers: Infinity War,” but the wait is nearly over. The finale to the Infinity Saga is here, and while most diehard fans will know to avoid them for fear of spoilers, early reviews are mostly positive. Last year’s “Infinity War” took home an [...]

  • American Made

    'American Made' Plane Crash Lawsuits End in Settlement

    The producers of the Tom Cruise film “American Made” have settled all litigation surrounding a 2015 plane crash in Colombia that killed two pilots. The settlement resolves pending suits in both California and Georgia. A notice of settlement was filed in Santa Monica Superior Court on Monday. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed. The [...]

  • Avengers: Endgame

    Film Review: 'Avengers: Endgame'

    SPOILER ALERT: The following review contains mild spoilers for “Avengers: Endgame.” The culmination of 10 years and more than twice as many movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, “Avengers: Endgame” promises closure where its predecessor, “Avengers: Infinity War,” sowed chaos. That film — which revealed that the cookie-cutter uniformity of all those MCU movies had [...]

  • Avengers: Endgame

    'Avengers: Endgame': Why a $300 Million Opening Could Be Impossible

    “Avengers: Endgame” is preparing for a staggering debut between $250 million and $268 million in North America alone. Unprecedented anticipation surrounding the Marvel juggernaut has some particularly optimistic box office watchers tossing around even higher numbers, estimating the superhero tentpole could clear nearly $300 million in ticket sales in its first three days. If any film [...]

  • Leonardo Dicaprio Nightmare Alley

    Leonardo DiCaprio in Talks to Star in Guillermo del Toro's 'Nightmare Alley' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Leonardo DiCaprio is in negotiations to star in Fox Searchlight’s “Nightmare Alley,” Guillermo del Toro’s follow-up to his Oscar-winning film “The Shape of Water.” Del Toro will direct the pic and co-wrote the script with Kim Morgan. “Nightmare Alley” is being produced and financed by del Toro and J. Miles Dale with TSG Entertainment, with [...]

  • Ben Affleck

    Ben Affleck to Star in and Direct World War II Caper 'Ghost Army'

    Ben Affleck will star in and direct the Universal Pictures caper “Ghost Army,” based on the book “The Ghost Army of World War II,” written by Rick Beyer and Elizabeth Sayles, as well as the documentary “Ghost Army.” It’s unclear when the movie will go into production as it’s still in development and Affleck is [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content