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This article by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the April 7, 2004
issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
New York Review: ‘Embedded’
Is it so difficult for political satire to be topical, timely,
thought-provoking, rebellious, deliberately agitating, and
entertaining all at the same time? The answer is usually yes. Perhaps
that is why we have so little of it. Therefore we might be grateful
for the hit and miss results doled out by Hollywood liberal activist
Tim Robbins in "Embedded," a satiric revue he wrote and directed in
the Brechtian style, and is now ensconced for a limited run at the
Public Theater following its run at his Actors’ Gang Theater in Los
For all the masked (literally) pretensions going on, personified as
the Bush administration, an advisory panel of masterful manipulators
of truth (all wearing cleverly designed masks by Erhard Stiefel),
"Embedded" postures too sophomorically as a rehash of yesterday’s
news. However committed "Embedded" is to reveal the deliberately
devious means that war against Iraq (in the play, Iraq is called
Gomorrah and Baghdad is Babylon) was justified, "Embedded" doesn’t
pack the wallop of even a Saturday Night Live show.
All but one member of the cast is from the original L.A. company. I
suspect that if the casting was done in New York, many of the
performances would have been sharper than they appear, although
agitprop doesn’t necessarily lend itself to intensified
individualization. Except for V.J. Foster’s fearsomely funny image of
a tough Colonel cum musical theater buff ("I played Riff in `West Side
Story’ in Zagreb," and "I sparkled as Anna in `The King and I’ in
Riyad")" assigned to shape up a corps of embedded "maggot" journalists
assigned to follow the army and report on the action, the others are
basically there to be identified as real.
Most familiar is the experience of Private Jen Ryan (code name for
Jessica Lynch), whose capture and subsequent exploitation by the media
of her rescue is basically a retread of what we already know. Some of
Robbins’ writing is right on the money and makes its point succinctly,
as when Jen’s father says, "If I’d had a better job, we might have had
the money to send you to college," to which Jen replies, "I’m with the
maintenance unit. Don’t you worry."
The point that the news as reported by the journalists is edited and
re-edited, and that the journalists aren’t really allowed access to
either Iraqi or American Army intelligence or objectively balance the
information, is presented matter-of-factly, as are the letters sent
from the soldiers to their loved ones at home. There is the element of
poignancy that comes with our recognition of real people being
unwittingly thrown into the fray. They surface in skit-like segments
in the shadow of "The Office of Special Plans." Here a Greek chorus of
a cabinet confers on how to start a war, thereby diverting the
American public from the front page dirty doings of big business. They
concur: "A tremendously beneficial side effect of this coverage is
that the corporate financial scandals of Enron, Haliburton, WorldCom,
Adelphi, Global Crossing, Tyco, Arthur Anderson etc. have all but
disappeared from the media."
I am glad that I had my features editor along as my companion to name
without hesitation the real names attached to such characters as
Gondola – code name for Condoleezza Rice; Rum Rum – code name for
Donald Rumsfeld; plus Woof; Dick; Pearly White, and Cove etc. One of
the biggest laughs comes when Dick asks Rum Rum, "How’s the coalition
doing? Rum Rum answers, "Slow but good news. Luxembourg is in. As to
the rest of them, France, Germany, Russia, Canada, Mexico, Indonesia,
all of South America, I say F.’em."
Bush is clearly out of the picture here, presumably meant to indicate
he is nothing more than a puppet for the above. Their humor, however,
is not so much barbed as it is bewildering in its naivete. Only one
man, ironically seated in our row, was noticeably irritated by the
play and pushed passed us during the play uttering a loud expletive.
Was he a plant, or was he simply embedded? HH
– Simon Saltzman
Embedded, Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street, New York. Tele-Charge
at 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200.
The key: HHHH Don’t miss; HHH You won’t feel cheated; HH Maybe you
should have stayed home; H Don’t blame us.
Aida H Palace, Broadway & 47, 212-307-4747.
Assassins, Roundabout at Studio 54, 254 West 54. Stephen Sondheim
musical. Previews. 212-719-1300.
Avenue Q HHHH Golden, 252 West 45. New musical moves up from
Barbara Cook’s Broadway, Vivian Beaumont, 150 West 65.
Beauty and the Beast, Lunt-Fontanne, Broadway & 46. Ticketmaster.
Bombay Dreams, Broadway Theatre, Broadway & 53. Previews.
Caroline, or Change, Eugene O’Neill, 230 West 49. Previews begin April
Chicago HHHH Ambassador, 219 West 49.
Drowning Crow HH Biltmore, 261 West 47. By Regina Taylor. Closed April
Fiddler on the Roof HH Minskoff, 200 West 45. Remake of the musical
42nd Street HHHH Ford Center, 213 West 42.
Golda’s Balcony HHH Helen Hayes, 240 West 44. Tovah Feldshuh.
Gypsy HH Shubert, 225 West 44. Bernadette Peters. Scheduled to end
February 28, more ticket sales and concessions from "everyone working
on the show," will keep the show running.
Hairspray HHH Neil Simon, 250 West 52. Ticketmaster. Winner of eight
Tony Awards including Best Musical, best actress and actor, and best
I Am My Own Wife HHH Lyceum Theater, 149 West 45. Jefferson Mays in
Doug Wright drama.
Jumpers, Brooks Atkinson, 256 West 47. Directed by David Leveaux.
Opened April 6.
King Lear, Vivian Beaumont, 150 West 65, Lincoln Center. Directed by
Little Shop of Horrors HHH Virginia, 245 West 52.
Mama Mia! HHH Winter Garden, 1634 Broadway. The Abba hit musical.
Match, Plymouth, 236 West 45. Frank Langella and Melora Walters.
Movin’ Out HHH Richard Rodgers, 226 West 46, 212-307-4100. Tony winner
for Twyla Tharp and Billy Joel.
Rent HHHH Nederlander, 208 West 41. Ticketmaster. By Jonathan Larson.
Sixteen Wounded, Walter Kerr, 219 West 48. Previews.
Sly Fox, Ethel Barrymore, 243 West 47. New comedy by Larry Gelbart
stars Richard Dreyfuss.
The Boy From Oz HH Imperial, 249 West 45.
The Lion King HHHH New Amsterdam, Broadway & 42, 212-307-4747.
The Producers HHHH St. James, 246 West 44. Winner of 12 Tonys. Matthew
Broderick and Nathan Lane are back. Pricey premium tickets:
A Raisin in the Sun, Royale, 242 West 45. Audra McDonald and Phylicia
Rashad. Previews. Limited engagement through July 11.
Thoroughly Modern Millie HH Marquis, Broadway & 46. Ticketmaster.
Twentieth Century, Roundabout at American Airlines, 227 West 42,
212-719-1300. Alec Baldwin and Anne Heche. Extended through June 6.
Wicked HHH Gershwin, 222 West 51. Ticketmaster. Updated Oz musical
stars Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel.
Wonderful Town HHH Al Hirschfeld, 302 West 45.
Big Bill HHH Mitzi Newhouse, Lincoln Center. A.R. Gurney directed by
Mark Lamos. To May 16.
Biro, The Public Theater, 425 Lafayette. Opened April 6.
Bridge & Tunnel, 45 Bleecker Theater. Ticketmaster. Sarah Jones’
Bug, Barrow Street Theater at 7 Avenue. New play by Tracy Letts.
Chef’s Theater, The Supper Club, 240 West 47. Previews.
Embedded HH Public, 425 Lafayette. Written and directed by Tim
Finian’s Rainbow, Irish Repertory Theater, 132 West 22. 212-727-2737.
Opened April 6.
Frozen, MCCC Theater at 136 East 13. Swoosie Kurtz.
Hannah and Martin, Manhattan Ensemble Theater, 55 Mercer Street. New
play by Kate Fodor. 212-279-4200.
King Cowboy Rufus Rules the Universe, Ontological-Hysteric Theater at
St. Mark’s Church, 131 East 10 Street, 212-533-4650. Matt & Ben, P.S.
122, 150 First Avenue at East 9 Street.
More, Union Square Theater, 100 East 17. New comedy by Judith Ivey.
Through April 18.
Mrs Farnsworth, Flea Theater, 41 White Street. John Lithgow and
Sigourney Weaver. To May 8.
Murdered by the Mob, Arno Ristorante, 141 West 38. 800-687-3374.
The Moonlight Room, Beckett, 410 West 42. New by Princeton alumnus
The Normal Heart, The Public Theater, 425 Lafayette, Opens April 8.
The Stendhal Syndrome HHH Primary Stages at 59 East 59. Two by
Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding HHH St. Luke’s Church, 308 West 46.
Toxic Audio in Loudmouth, John Houseman Theater, 450 West 42. Previews
begin April 7. Open April 18.
Wave, Ohio Theater, 66 Wooster, 212-971-4862. Through April 11.
Well, Public, 425 Lafayette. New from Lisa Kron. Previews.
– Simon Saltzman
Unless otherwise noted, all Broadway and Off-Broadway reservations can
be made through Tele-Charge at 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200. Other
ticket outlets: Ticket Central, 212-279-4200; Ticketmaster,
800-755-4000 or 212-307-4100.
. To October 25.
The Identical Same Temptation, Theater for the New City, 155 First
Avenue at 10th Street, 212-254-1109. By Robert Glaudini. Extended to
Living Out HHH Second Stage, 307 West 43.
The Daughter-in-Law HHH Mint Theater, 311 West 43. D.H. Lawrence.
Bobbi Boland, Cort, 138 West 48. Farrah Fawcett stars. Previews.
The Harlequin Studies. Signature Theater at Peter Norton Space, 555
West 42. Bill Irwin. To November 9.
The Night Heron, Atlantic, 336 West 20. To November 9.
Wilder, Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42. New musical. To November
The Two Noble Kinsmen, Public, 425 Lafayette. Shakespeare directed by
Omnium Gatherum HHH Variety Arts, 110 Third Avenue. To November 30.
Living Out HHH Second Stage, 307 West 43.
Strictly Academic, Primary Stages, 354 West 45. By A.R. Gurney.
Listen to My Heart, Studio 54, 254 West 54. Songs of David Friedman.
Laughing Room Only H Brooks Atkinson, 256 West 47. Jackie Mason bomb.
Carnival Knowledge HH SoHo Playhouse, 15 Vandam.
Frame 312, Atlantic, 336 West 20.
Lypsinka!, Minetta Lane, 18 Minetta Lane, 212-420-8000.
The Last Letter, Lortel, 121 Christopher. Stars Kathleen Chalfant.
Henry IV HHHH Vivian Beaumont, 150 West 65. Billy Crudup, Ethan Hawke,
Kevin Kline, Audra McDonald. Ends January 18.
Nine HHH, Eugene O’Neill, 230 West 49. 2003 Tony winner with Eartha
Urinetown HHH Henry Miller, 124 West 43. Ends January 18.
Nobody Don’t Like Yogi, Lamb’s, 130 West 44. With Ben Gazzara. To
The Donkey Show, Club El Flamingo, 547 West 21. Disco hit.
Trumbo, Westside, 407 West 43. "Red, White & Blacklisted." Stars
Rose’s Dilemma, City Center I, 131 West 55. By Neil Simon. To February
Taboo HH Plymouth, 236 West 45. Rosie O’Donnell’s money-draining
production, closing February 8.
Caroline, or Change HHHH Public Theater, 425 Lafayette. Tony Kushner
musical. To February 1.
Persians, Pearl Theatre Company, 80 St. Mark’s Place, 212-598-9802.
Aeschylus classic to February 8.
The Regard Evening, Signature Theater at Peter Norton Space, 555 West
42. Bill Irwin. Extended to February 1.
Weights, Urban Stages, 259 West 30, 212-868-4444. Theater By The
Never Gonna Dance HHH Broadhurst, 235 West 44. New Jerome Kern
musical. Closing February 15.
Anna in the Tropics HHH Royale, 242 West 45. From McCarter, Nilo Cruz
drama directed by Emily Mann. Ends February 22.
The Retreat from Moscow HH Booth, 222 West 45. Eileen Atkins and John
Lithgow. To February 29.
Alice in Wonderland, Kirk, 410 West 42. Adult musical comedy.
Duet, Greenwich Street Theater, 547 Greenwich, 212-352-3101. Sarah
Bernhardt and Eleanora Duse drama.
Private Jokes, Public Places, Center for Architecture, 536 LaGuardia
Place, West 3 Street. By Oren Safdie.
The Thing About Men HH Promenade, 2162 Broadway at 76. New musical
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof HH Music Box, 239 West 45. Stars Ashley Judd,
Jason Patric, Ned Beatty.
The Exonerated, 45 Bleeker. Ticketmaster. 2003 Drama Desk Award.
Closes March 7.
Roulette HH John Houseman, 450 West 42.
Valhalla HHH New York Theater Workshop, 79 East 4. New from Paul
Rudnick. To March 21.
Addicted, Zipper, 336 West 37. Mark Lundholm comedy. Extended.
Aunt Dan and Lemon HHH Theatre Row, 410 West 42. By Wallace Shawn. To
Beautiful Child, Vineyard, 108 East 15, 212-353-0303.
Double Infidelity, Pearl Theater, 80 St. Mark’s Place, 212-598-9802.
Great Men of Gospel, New Federal Theater, 466 Grand, 212-353-1176.
Written and directed by Elizabeth Van Dyke.
Ministry of Progress, Jane Street, 113 Jane. Rock musical.
They Wrote That?, McGinn/Cazale, Broadway at 76. The songs of Mann and
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