The Front Page

Set in the 1920s, The Front Page is a play written by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur about the nature of media in society. Today, given the accusations about the handling of the Richard Jewell case, the TIME Cyberporn case, the O.J. Simpson trial, the plain leaning of the Washington Post to the left and the Washtington Times to the right, the story rings truer than ever.

I saw the performance put on by the American University's Experimental Theatre, in Washington DC, directed by Joe Martin. I've been to quite a few plays put on by AU's Department of Performing Arts, but this has to be has to be the worst in terms of choice of casting and acting. I felt the intensity of the messages in the play were reduced due to the fact that most of the actors didn't seem to take their roles seriously enough.

The opening scene is very striking. We see a bunch of characters frozen still leaning away from the audience at something. We are unaware of the events that lead to this situation, but it is clear that it is an important one in the plot. We then learn that the characters are newspaper reporters in the press room of the Criminal Courts Building in Chicago waiting for a condemned man (Earl Williams, played quite well by Taresh Mullick) to be hanged. Williams is condemned because he opposes the norms of society and follows a philosophy that the xenophobic are quick to attack. To further their own agendas, the press and the Mayor of Chicago, who is up for re-election, cast Williams as a murdering Communist. The play tries to showscases the inherent corruption in the media: "These reportrs have nurtured their own ignroance to do their job. They are biased, bigoted, racist, hate women, and are ruthless in their pursuit of the headline---and therefore are entirely recognizable characters."

The plot has an underlying theme about anarchy that is philosophically signicant, and is best epitomised by the Williams' statement "I'm an anarchist, not a Bolshevik." Williams then goes on to wax poetic about anarchy, but it is short-lived. There is a great chance for getting a real message about this vastly misunderstood philosophy across to the people.

While few of the performances were reasonable (the highlights are Alex Honzen as Walter Burns, Benjamin Rishworth as Hildy Johnson, and Mullick), the plot definitely makes it a play worth watching. I'd definitely check it out if given the opportunity, particularly if you're one of the people fed up with the media's power play (but the Internet is going to change all that, right?).

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