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Abingdon Theatre Company Presents "Hellman v. McCarthy" with Dick Cavett at the June Havoc Theater
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Abingdon Theatre Company Presents "Hellman v. McCarthy" with Dick Cavett at the June Havoc Theater

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Abingdon Theatre Company

Hellman v. McCarthy
By Bruce J. Robinson

At the
Abingdon Theatre Company
Jan Buttram, Artistic Director
June Havoc Theater
312 West 36th Street

With: Dick Cavett, Roberta Maxwell, Rowan Michael Meyer,
Marcia Rodd, Jeff Woodman, Peter Brouwer

Directed by Jan Buttram
Set Design: Andrew Lu
Lighting Design: Travis McHale
Costume Designer: Jane Greenwood
Lighting Design: Tony Kudner
Sound Design: Ian Wehrle
Production Stage Manager: Mark Hoffner
Asst. Stage Manager: Deidre Works
Casting Director: Carol Hanzel
Managing Director: Heather Henderson
Associate Artistic Director/Literary Manager: Kim T. Sharp
Director of Communications: Bob Lasko

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
March 29, 2014

On a stormy and windy night, theater aficionados poured into Abingdon Theatre Company for Brian Richard Mori’s new play, Hellman v. McCarthy, about the literary feud between Lillian Hellman, prize-winning playwright and screenwriter, and Mary McCarthy, prize-winning novelist and critic. Perhaps Dick Cavett was the draw, as he played himself, as host of his own interview show, one night in 1979, on PBS. Much of this new play is fabricated for dramatic entertainment, while the basic premises are true to the historical feud. Marcia Rodd is Mary McCarthy, and Roberta Maxwell is Lillian Hellman, as this remarkable play extends from the night of Ms. McCarthy’s negative remark on the Cavett show to 1984, when Ms. Hellman dies. Mr. Cavett appears at interludes to wittily comment to the audience, in self-deprecating humor, about the run of his shows and the nature of television journalism. He really should appear more on stage, as he’s so entertaining, in his low-key manner.

During the play’s re-enactment of the infamous McCarthy interview, Ms. Rodd states with scorn and smirk that Ms. Hellman is a constant liar, even lying when she says “and” and “the”. Ms. Hellman and her male nurse, Ryan Hobbs (a sarcastic Rowan Michael Meyer) were tired of a board game and turned on television to witness this diatribe. Immediately Ms. Hellman summons her well dressed and well paid lawyer, Lester Marshall (Peter Brouwer, who’s also Abingdon’s gala auctioneer). Ms. Hellman orders lawsuits all around, against Ms. McCarthy, PBS, and Dick Cavett. Ms. McCarthy’s lawyer is a pragmatic Burt Fielding (Jeff Woodman), who attempts to persuade his client to privately apologize to Ms. Hellman, so she’ll drop the years-long case. As the play progresses, Ms. Hellman’s illnesses also progress, with Ms. Hellman in a wheelchair now. The imaginary (created only for this play) meeting does not bring an apology, and the lawsuit continues until Ms. Hellman’s death.

Jan Buttram directs to focus on the character personas and conversational comedy, the most engaging taking place between Ms. Hellman and her easily distracted male nurse, who serves as butler and confidant, as well. Mr. Meyer played the role with pathos and spunk. As Ms. Hellman, Ms. Maxwell was superb, evoking stubborn will and visceral vulnerability. She so openly yearned for Ms. McCarthy’s elusive apology. Ms. Rodd, as Ms. McCarthy, evoked unnerving humiliation toward her literary rival Underlying and opposing political opinions were embedded in the dialogue, through banter and barbs. Mr. Brouwer, as Ms. Hellman’s lawyer Lester Marshall, was, at times, nurturing and loyal, and, at other times, fuming and nonplussed. Mr. Woodman, as Ms. McCarthy’s lawyer Burt Fielding, was restrained or combative, depending on the time span of the draining lawsuit. Andrew Lu’s uncluttered set design was appropriately late 70’s, early 80’s, with some iconic props, like long telephone cords. Jane Greenwood’s costumes exemplified the dignity of Ms. Hellman and the robustness of Ms. McCarthy. Kudos to Dick Cavett; he deserves a new show.

Marcia Rodd and Dick Cavett
in "Hellman vs. McCarthy"
Courtesy of Kim T. Sharp

Peter Brouwer, Jeff Woodman, Marcia Rodd
in "Hellman vs. McCarthy"
Courtesy of Kim T. Sharp

Roberta Maxwell and Marcia Rodd
in "Hellman vs. McCarthy"
Courtesy of Kim T. Sharp

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at