*Straight Line Crazy,* Nov 19, 2022
Richard and I saw *Straight Line Crazy* at The Shed on November 19, 2022. It's a new play by David Hare starring Ralph Fiennes as Robert Moses. Moses is one of the great villains of mid-century New York - - he was an urban planner who had a mania for building bridges and roads with no concern for the people who were being displaced to make space for them. Over 200,000 people were uprooted by his projects over the course of his career.
Richard liked it more than I did. I didn't think it was very well written. I felt like David Hare made a bullet list of the things he wanted to have happen in the play, then created characters who served specific purposes, people who had a particular agenda against Moses. He checked each of those things off the list and called it a play. It felt false and stagey, it didn't breathe.
A performance can sometimes be like going to a restaurant. In this case I checked out the menu ahead of time and it looked very enticing: I'd never seen Fiennes onstage, I was looking forward to that. Hare is a very respected writer - - I knew him primarily for his screenplay for *The Hours,* which I love. It was co-directed by the great Nicholas Hytner and Jamie Armitage. And best of all, the subject was bursting with drama. Moses isn't just a villain, he's a villain who is absolutely certain that what he's doing is the right thing and that he's doing good work for The People.
The "meal" started and it certainly smelled like delicious food. The other patrons seemed to be enjoying themselves. But when I started "eating," even though the food was filling and I felt like I had had a meal when I left, it didn't really have much flavor or satisfy my appetite. It had all of the promise of a great meal but didn't deliver.
Fiennes gave a very strong performance but the material was not worthy of his talent. The high point in the play was a long scene near the end between him and the woman who worked for him for 30 years. It was sharp and tense and human, it had everything the rest of the play lacked.
This play has sparked new interest in Robert Caro's 1974 Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Moses, *The Power Broker.* It's great when a play inspires you to read a book. It's not a good sign when, while watching the play, you feel like you'd rather be reading the book.