I grabbed my pen and pad and headed Downcity for the press night performance of “His Girl Friday,” an adaptation of Hecht and MacArthur’s "The Front Page" by John Guare.
Having seen a number of versions of the Depression year spoof on journalists, both on stage and in the movie theatre, I was not overly enthusiastic.
The play opened with the usual dated (although updated to the late ’30s) press room patter. “Here we go again,” I thought.
But wait! This is Trinity! Curt Columbus is directing. Two actors, Fred Sullivan Jr. and Stephen Thorne, know how to take old chestnuts and liven them up.
And do they ever liven up this play, thanks to Columbus allowing them to run with their characters and, I’m sure, add a bit of their own ideas to their parts.
You know the story: Ace reporter Hildy Johnson (Angela Brazil) has divorced her boss, Walter Burns (Sullivan), quit her job, and landed a wealthy, but dull and naïve fiancé (Thorne). She returns with her husband and future mother-in-law (Janice Duclos) to the press room just as the biggest story of the year is about to break.
Will she get involved in the story and her former husband?
It’s an old story, and done straight it is a bit tedious. But Columbus has given his actors the green light and cleverly given many of them two roles to play that require some quick changes of both costumes and character.
Stick with the first scene, which goes on too long and gets hung up in the politics of the day: immigration, war, terrorism, political corruption, freedom of the press. Wait a minute. All of those problems are still around!
The play picks up speed when Hildy arrives with her fiancé. Thorne does a quick change from one of the reporters, literally from a beige suit to a white one.
Burns puts his arm around him and for the next 10 minutes subtly berates him without poor Bruce having a clue. The three-character scene is a gem. It gets even more hysterical when Bruce’s mother shows up.
Brian McEleny plays the prissy reporter, Bensinger, as only McEleny can, and it is enough to single him out with heaps of praise. But then he goes to the men’s room and emerges in seconds as Diamond Louie, who to the uninitiated would be considered another actor in the role.
If that is not enough, Phyllis Kay plays a macho reporter and a sexy dame, while Duclos not only plays a matronly mother-in-law but also dippy minister, while Stephen Berenson is a reporter one minute and the sheriff the next.
Want more? Richard Donelly plays a glib reporter and the corrupt mayor.
There’s more! Conservatory student Phillipe Bowgen plays a Dutch custodian and the subject of all of the fracas, accused killer who is about to face the gallows, Holub. Holub “drops in” at the end of the first act in a manner never seen before on the Trinity stage. Holub hides out in a roll-top desk while reporters and lawmen search for him. (He actually spends 28 minutes in very close quarters).
Mention must go to two other conservatory students who add much to the performance and also play two important roles: Brough Hansen and Lovell Holder.
If all this seems a little wild and crazy, it is, and it makes an old story new again, thanks to the Trinity touches.
“His Girl Friday” is at Trinity Repertory Company through Oct. 9. Call 521-1000 for reservations.