Written by David Hare / Directed by Nicholas Hytner – Bridge Theatre, London, 17 September, 2022
Breaking news: Fat Book inspires Thin Play. Robert Caro’s monumental work about Robert Moses, reviewed by us in March, gave us a character of Shakespearian complexity. Alas, David Hare is not Shakespeare. Not even close. In his play he cherry-picks two episodes in the powerful public servant’s hectic agenda: an expressway cutting a line through estates of the leisured and treasured on Long Island (Moses is depicted having a slanging match with Henry Vanderbilt). The First Act, declamatory, expository, and facile, shows Ralph Fiennes, a fine actor (Moses), Guy Paul (Vanderbilt) and Danny Webb (Governor Al Smith) revivifying the old saw about dramatic theatre – “Shouting at Night.”
Having shown Moses stand up for the little man, Act Two propels antagonists into view to show his burgeoning corruption, dislike of ‘the lesser races’ and women in general (including oddly, according to Hare, his first wife). The antagonists are architectural journalist and writer Jane Jacobs (a real person, played quite well by Helen Schlesinger) and a made-up plot device, Finnuala Connell (Siobhán Cullen), whose role is to tut-tut like the Irish lass in Touched by an Angel. Jacobs, who doesn’t even make it into Caro’s thousand pages, was a key driver of the Committee to Save Washington Square Park – one of Moses’ few early defeats. And Ms. Connell, a planner and general factotum, joins with fervour in the speech-making on plentiful offer. The conclusion telescopes undeveloped ideas and finishes with a jolt – or rather, a thud. A disappointing piece.