Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Last Hurrah"

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note: entire contents copyright 1999 by Christopher Harding

"The Last Hurrah"

Reviewed by Christopher Harding

An alcoholic newspaperman sings off-key the tune "High Hopes" to himself in the Huntington Theatre Company's world premiere of "The Last Hurrah," lamentably foreboding the ill-success of one of the autumn's most eagerly anticipated productions.

For ten years the Huntington had been soliciting and rejecting stage adaptations of Edwin O'Connor's much-admired political novel. In the book and the impossible-to-forget 1958 movie version starring Spencer Tracy, the city in which the action was set was never named, but the open secret was that the plot was loosely based on the final election bid of four-time Boston mayor James Michael Curley. Here 73-year-old Irish Catholic Frank Skeffington rallies his cronies so he can stay in the mayoral office for one more term. Determined to oust him at last, the Protestant power brokers and newspaper owners field a handsome, but vacuous Irish candidate and prepare to use the then-new tool of television. Will voters forget the favors Boss Skeffington has done for all the widows and underdogs?

It was evident that Huntington playgoers came in wanting to like the show from the way they readily chuckled at anything that might be construed as a Boston reference, such an allusion to a paper named "the Herald."

But director/adapter Eric Simonson buffed up the mayor's halo a little too much and two-dimensionalized the characters and the conflict, draining out much of the suspense and the interest.. The details of Curley's life as recounted in the program were considerably more entertaining than the near saintly behavior of the stage mayor (portrayed well enough by actor Michael Ball), but this character would never be called "Rascal King" or "Irish Mussolini." And his antagonists come very close to caricatures of Beacon Hill Brahmins.

The biggest problem is James Wolk's unit set which is a kind of dusty-window warehouse, which works well enough as an overarching metaphor, but gets depressing to look at all the time. Despite some truly amusing scenes, such as Knocko Minnehan's wake and the contrived broadcast from McCluskey home, " The Last Hurrah" never gelled into the show producers had such high hopes for… maybe they should have waited for one more rewrite…

"The Last Hurrah" (till 21 November)
Boston University Theatre, 264 Huntington Avenue, BOSTON

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