Johnny on a Spot
Tue Sep 17 2002
Photograph: Dick Larson
Time Out Ratings :<strong>Rating: </strong>2/5
Like The Front Page—the durable, oft-revived classic he cowrote with Ben Hecht—Charles MacArthur’s 1942 political farce, Johnny on a Spot, spins a hectic, wisecracking frenzy on a single set. But in the absence of Hecht’s acid-dipped wit, the play’s comic gears are exposed and the temperature is perceptibly cooler. It’s like dry vermouth without the gin—or, more aptly, corn liquor, the poison of choice for Gov. Upjohn, head of an unnamed Southern state, whose absence from the statehouse on the eve of a crucial election drives Johnny’s scrambling action.
The resonance with today’s red-blue political dust-ups, even at their most sideshowlike, is faint at best. Indeed, MacArthur’s WWII–vintage cynicism seems almost quaint. Reporters huddle with a scheming campaign manager (a David Schwimmer–esque Carter Roy) to josh about the governor’s drinking and womanizing, while a pompous newspaper tycoon (Raymond Thorne) wages open class war in top hat and spats.
Most disappointingly, MacArthur, the son of a Baptist minister, stocks the play with broad types that look suspiciously like city slickers in Southern drag: a grasping judge (Mark Manley), a seedy commissioner (Robert O’Gorman), a spoiled heiress (Laura Daniel). Under Dan Wackerman’s serviceable direction, the cast keeps all the farcical plates spinning in the air, but not very high.