TimeLine Theatre presents
THE FRONT PAGE
At 615 W. Wellington
Written by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur
Directed by Nick Bowling
Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30pm
Fridays at 8pm
Saturdays at 4pm and 8:30pm
Sundays at 2pm
EXTENDED Thru July 17th
Running Time: Two hours and thirty minutes includes a ten minute intermission
Reviewed by Katy Walsh
Gambling, drinking, fondling, lying, killing: it’s just another day at the office. Press and politics fraternize in the Windy City. TimeLine Theatre presents the Chicago classic THE FRONT PAGE. It’s the1920s. Newspapermen hang out in the press room of the Chicago Criminal Courts Building. Outside, the gallows are being tested for the next morning’s hanging. Inside, the reporters wait out THE story. It’s a full-on man-cave-frat-house with poker, flasks and dirty boxers. Area happenings are phoned in and deemed newsworthy based on the corpse’s attractiveness. The sheriff and mayor trade execution press passes for election favors. One of the fellas, Hildy Johnson is leaving the news racket to get married. As Hildy says his goodbyes, the condemned man escapes. The man hunt sends the reporters on the run. When an exclusive climbs in the window, Hildy has to choose between his girl and his passion. THE FRONT PAGE is a hot off the presses commemorative edition.
Upon arrival, the set (designed by Collette Pollard) looks like a museum journalism exhibit. Desks, typewriters, phones, Fedoras clutter the theatre-in-the-round stage. The authentic preservation is an impressive establishment of time. Phones start ringing. Overhead voices are arguing. The usual turn-off-your-cell-phone announcement is cleverly disguised and sets the historical tone. Under the direction of Nick Bowling, the huge and hugely talented 18-member ensemble overlap zippy dialogue with firm camaraderie. With a talk-heavy script, Bowling keeps it moving. The chorus of reporters plays cards, ukulele and pranks. They playfully pace, strip, and sing. Every inch of the stage and sidelines gets pressing activity. The mood is wise-cracking fun. The jocular ambiance turns competitive when news breaks. A fabulously frantic PJ Powers (Hildy Johnson) juggles his editor, his girl, and her mother. Powers excels at working all the angles of a groomed reporter. His editor, Terry Hamilton (Walter Burns), doesn’t appear until later in the second half. But every minute Hamilton is on stage, it’s his show. Hamilton’s rapid-fire lines command the comedic situation. He is beyond hilarious! Another limited role but scene stealer, Angela Bullard (Mrs. Grant) uses exaggerated offensive expressions to scoop the laughter. The entire cast zings and jabs with entertaining amusement. As a misunderstood dame ruined by the media, Mechelle Moe (Mollie) is pure melodramatic martyr. The only serious note in the buffoonery, Moe’s whining is perfectly annoying.
Newspapermen Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur wrote an expose on their own livelihood. With an old-fashion and unapologetic quality, the play portrays the media as insensitive, sensational story chasers. Undoubtedly a controversial ball-buster for the time period, the play also illustrates political corruption. Both press and politics are identified as unglamorous but glamorized professions. To be read or to be elected, there is power in a voice heard by the public. Hecht and MacArthur’s script has transcended through generational movie variations. Although the corruption comedy is timeless, the initial scene set-up is not. It’s a long press run before the editor arrives! My Girl Friday knew to bring Cary Grant (Walter Burns) in earlier in the movie. A tight adaptation with Hamilton making it into the first section would be a brilliant lead. Still, TimeLine’s THE FRONT PAGE walks the beat as comics meet editorial tabloid entertainment.
Production photographs courtesy of Lara Goetsch.