Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.

Brian Murray

Five Films for Campaign Season


As we enter the final days of a presidential campaign that has been both historic and unusually ahem interesting we are more aware than ever of the vital need to engage in politics, (however distasteful it can sometimes be.) Here are some movies dedicated to examining how the sausage making of electing political leaders actually occurs.

The Best Man (1964) Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner (Planet of the Apes, Patton) and written by Gore Vidal was based on his own play of the same title. Starring Henry Fonda, Cliff Robertson, Edie Adams, Margaret Leighton and Lee Tracy this drama details the sordid maneuverings behind the nomination of a presidential candidate. Tracy was nominated for Best Supporting Actor in what was to be his final film.

The Candidate (1972) This satirical comedy drama was directed by Michael Ritchie (The Bad News Bears, Fletch) and written by former Eugene McCarthy speechwriter Jeremy Larner. Political specialist Marvin Lucas (Peter Boyle) needs a Democratic candidate to oppose a popular Republican incumbent (Don Porter).  Since no serious candidate will enter such an unwinnable race Lucas seeks out Bob McKay (Robert Redford) the son of a former Democratic governor who wants to use the campaign solely as bully pulpit to spread his idealistic platform. Things don’t go as planned. It was widely acclaimed for Redford’s performance and Larner’s script, and the latter won an Oscar.

Bob Roberts (1992) This satirical mockumentary was written and directed by Tim Robbins who also starred in the title role as a conservative Republican folk singer who becomes the challenger against a Democratic incumbent for one of Pennsylvania’s Senate seats.  Shot through the perspective of Terry Manchester (stage star Brian Murray) who’s doing a documentary on Roberts’ campaign while a young reporter Bugs Raplin (Giancarlo Esposito) attempts to expose Roberts as a fraud. It currently has a 100% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes.

Wag the Dog (1997) This hysterical black comedy produced and directed by Barry Levinson kicks off with allegations of sexual misconduct on the part of the President and an adorable firefly girl…less than two weeks before the election.  Trouble shooter Conrad Bean (Robert DeNiro) is brought in to save the situation and he concocts an elaborate scheme to distract the public by creating a fake war with Albania. To that end he recruits legendary Hollywood producer Stanley Motts (Dustin Hoffman) and then things get very, VERY complicated. Besides Hoffman and DeNino we also get Anne Heche, William H. Macy, Denis Leary, and Woody Harrelson all at the top of their game as well. Small wonder it has an 85% rating at Rotten Tomatoes as well as Oscar nominations for Dustin Hoffman for Best Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Primary Colors (1998) Based on the novel of the same name, directed by Mike Nichols (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?  Silkwood) and starring John Travolta as a charismatic Southern governor trying to win the Democratic Party nomination for President. (Three guesses who this is based on.) Besides Travolta we also get winning turns by Emma Thompson, Billy Bob Thornton, Kathy Bates, and Adrian Lester. Bates was nominated by the Academy for Best Supporting Actress and screenwriter Elaine May (Ishtar, The Birdcage) also received a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Top photo from Bigstock

Simon Says – A Concept, Not A Play


During tests of children on brain activity, professor Williston (Brian Murray) discovered striking psychic abilities in James (Anthony J. Goes) who’d been abandoned by his mother to the state. Excited by future research i.e. prospects, he became the orphan’s guardian and has raised him, studying, honing, and perhaps exploiting the young man’s talent to “channel” the other side. Simon is James’s spiritual alter ego, the soul that enters his body when in a trance. Private clients have supported them. Williston is working on a book and has pie-in-the-sky fantasies about Simon’s leading historical/archeological tours.

Anthony J. Goes, Vanessa Britting, Brian Murray

We first meet James returning from (playing in) a baseball game. He’s solicitous about the older man’s medications and ignores being warned off a beer before that evening’s session. The relationship is one of affection and habit.

Accidentally discovering a letter from the local college stating the old man stopped payment on a tuition check that would allow James to finish school (The actor is too old to make this feasible), his ward is furious. The two had a deal. He’d go to school during the day and channel evenings. James is tired of being “nothing but a science experiment.” This is the last straw. He’s leaving. Willitson justifies his action with the significance of what they’re doing.

Enter Annie (Vanessa Britting), a pretty young widow, skeptical of what’s being offered, but  desperate to contact her husband. The two were soul mates. Annie was driving when, through no fault of her own, a fatal accident occurred. James and she find one another sympathetically familiar, but he has to be talked into giving her the promised session. Changing his mind takes way too long.

Brian Murray, Anthony J. Goes, Vanessa Britting

The rest of the play is dense exposition. Simon enters/inhabits James (cue spastic gyration attributed to “vibrational influences” and soft enunciated voice) in various incarnations, ostensibly proving the existence of the soul. It seems Willitson, James, and Annie knew one another in a past life. Everything changes with acknowledgement.

Unfortunately, you might just as well read a tract on the subject (by a believer) for all the dramatic impact of this piece. Explanations replace dialogue, clichés take over for character illumination, and the whole package is too neatly tied with a bow.

Poor Anthony J. Goes has the unrewarding task of being occupied by spirits whose transition looks ridiculous and whose monologues mostly sink. Until he goes into a trance, the actor is fine.

Vanessa Britting, Brian Murray, Anthony J. Goes

Brian Murray is not always intelligible and sometimes off rhythm. A few obstreperous, paternal speeches remind us of more successful appearances. Vanessa Britting does a yeoman-like job and deserves better.

Director Myriam Cyr uses the staging area well. Interaction outside of Simon’s appearances lands credibly.

Janie Howland’s Set Design comprised of eclectic furniture that’s seen better days, dusty curtains, archaic collectibles, overlapping oriental carpets, and endless, piled up books sets the perfect scene. Cat Stramer’s Costume Design is eminently appropriate.

I actually have no issue with the premise of Simon Says, just with its script. A course on Mysticism (indicated in the program) doth not a playwright make.

Photos by Maria Baranova
Opening: Brian Murray and Anthony J. Goes

Simon Says by Mat Shaffer
Directed by Myriam Cyr
Lynn Redgrave Theater Culture Project
45 Bleecker Street
Through July 30, 2016