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Lincoln Center Theater at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Presents "The City of Conversation" with Jan Maxwell
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Lincoln Center Theater at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Presents "The City of Conversation" with Jan Maxwell

- Backstage with the Playwrights

Lincoln Center Theater
At the Mitzi E. Newhouse
Andre Bishop: Producing Artistic Director

The City of Conversation
(Show Web Page)
By Anthony Giardina

John Aylward, Phillip James Brannon, Kristen Bush
Beth Dixon, Barbara Garrick, Jan Maxwell
Luke Niehaus, Kevin OíRourke, Michael Simpson

Directed by Doug Hughes

Sets: John Lee Beatty
Costumes: Catherine Zuber
Lighting: Tyler Micoleau
Original Music and Sound: Mark Bennett
Stage Manager: James FitzSimmons
Casting: Daniel Swee
Exec. Dir., Development & Planning: Hattie K. Jutagir
Director of Marketing: Linda Mason Ross
General Press Agent: Philip Rinaldi
Managing Director: Adam Siegel
General Manager: Jessica Niebanck
Production Manager: Jeff Hamlin

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
May 14, 2014

Lincoln Center Theaterís new production, a two-act play by Anthony Giardina, should be a smash success. It has something for all political news junkies and all lovers of parlor styled, cocktail conversation. Jan Maxwell, as Hester Ferris, is the grande dame of Democratic dinner parties, through three presidential terms: 1979 - Carter years, 1987 - Reagan years, and 2009 - Obama years. The setting is the lovely living room of Hesterís Georgetown home, where she resides with her sister, Jean Swift (Beth Dixon), in a very strong supporting role, as her executive aide. In the Carter years, Hester greets Republican Congressman George Mallonee (John Aylward) and his wife Carolyn Mallonee (Barbara Garrick), with Hesterís Democratic friend, Chandler Harris (Kevon OíRourke), there for strategic manipulation. Hesterís entertaining is inventive wheeling and dealing, with the help of Bourbon and bon bons. These were the years when private event attendees were scrupulously discreet, no instant messaging or snap photos, thank you. These were the days of bipartisan camaraderie, under the radar, literally.

In this first scene, Hesterís son Colin (Michael Simpson) has arrived from college abroad with a fiancťe, Anna Fitzgerald (Kristen Bush). who dissects every move Hester makes with intense focus, even asking if she can watch Hesterís wardrobe and makeup preparation. Hester, older and wiser, and not afraid of verbal boldness, refuses the favor, with intuitive timing. The film ďAll About EveĒ is evoked. The revelation that slowly creeps in is that Colin and, especially, Anna see a productive and powerful future in, heaven forbid, the Republican party, with the second scene set in 1987. Colin and Anna are now married and parents of a child, Ethan (Luke Niehaus), for whom Hester and Jean babysit during the days. Ethanís parents work in their Republican circles, currently on behalf of Robert Borkís appointment to the Supreme Court, while Hester and Jean hide Bork-related documents to undermine the Reagan nomination. Little Ethan, Hester and Jeanís daily oxygen, is swiftly isolated within out of town Republican havens. Thus, an estrangement ensues between Colin and his mother, one thatís politically driven and stubbornly irrevocable.

The final scene, as Ethan, played by Michael Simpson, brings his partner, Donald Logan (Phillip James Brannon), to visit grandma Hester, is brief comfort to the now aging Hester and Jean, both bent, weary, exhausted, and still fighting for Democratic friends and causes. The once bubbly living room is now modernized, a bit, but stark, dull, and dreary. Ms. Maxwell gives a tour de force performance, covering a role that spans three decades and three presidents. Itís now Obamaís first year in office, and Washington elites are optimistic and color-blind. Mr. Giardinaís deeply thoughtful and often witty play could be followed by a sequel, to dramatize the intransigence of Washingtonís political climate of today. Doug Hughes has directed for poignancy, with each character revealing vulnerability amidst tenacity. John Lee Beattyís scenic design morphs from elegant to bland, before our eyes. Catherine Zuberís costumes fit each scene with differentiation of decade and circumstance. Tyler Micoleauís lighting and Mark Bennettís sound spotlight and magnify the joy or angst of the moment. Kudos to Anthony Giardina, and kudos to Jan Maxwell, for this very engaging evening at the theater.

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