The Columnist – David Auburn


Orig­i­nally pro­duced by the Man­hat­tan The­ater Club, April 25, 2012.

Orig­i­nal Cast:

Joe Alsop (40s-50s)                                         John Lith­gow
Susan Mary Alsop (40s)                                  Mar­garet Colin
Stew­art Alsop (late 40s)                                  Boyd Gaines
Andrei (Young Man, Man) (20s-30s)              Brian J. Smith
Abi­gail (16-20s)                                                Grace Gum­mer
Hal­ber­stam (late 20s-30s)                               Stephen Kunken
Philip (early 20s)                                              Marc Bonan

Direc­tor:  Daniel Sul­li­van
Set Design:  John Lee Beatty
Cos­tume Design:  Jess Gold­stein
Light­ing Design:  Ken­neth Pos­ner
Orig­i­nal Music and Sound Design:  John Gro­mada
Pro­jec­tion Designer:  Rocco DiS­anti
Hair and Wig Designer:  Charles LaPointe
Pro­duc­tion Stage Man­ager:  Jane Grey
Stage Man­ager:  Denise Yaney

Pub­li­ca­tion:  Auburn, David. The Colum­nist. Faber and Faber, 2012. Drama Library PS3551.U28 C65 2012.

Set­ting:  Var­i­ous from 1954 through 1968

Lan­guage:  Per­sons in the play are gen­er­ally upper-class and intel­li­gent; their speech reflects their status


My boy, pol­i­tics is life! Pol­i­tics is human inter­course at its most sub­limely ridicu­lous and intensely vital. You may as well say you don’t care very much for sex.

Genre/Style:  Serio-comedic

Plot:  The play was inspired by the life of Joe Alsop, a news­pa­per colum­nist who dom­i­nated the Wash­ing­ton polit­i­cal scene dur­ing the years between World War II and the Viet­nam War.  Most peo­ple won’t know who Joe Alsop is and most young audi­ences will have a hard time believ­ing that jour­nal­ists ever held that much power con­sid­er­ing the rel­a­tively weak posi­tions of most jour­nal­ists today, par­tic­u­larly in the Wash­ing­ton press corps.  The only real ten­sion in the play comes from the vague threat of Alsop being exposed as a homo­sex­ual after being entrapped by the KGB in 1954.  How­ever, despite the poten­tial for dam­ag­ing his career, the threat ulti­mately has no effect on him.  Instead, what dam­ages Alsop’s stand­ing is his unbend­ing posi­tion on the Viet­nam War.


Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Mono­logues:  Mono­logues con­tain the first few lines and the last few lines; please con­sult the pub­lished text for the mono­logue in its entirety.

p. 34:  Hal­ber­stam, a young New York Times news­pa­per colum­nist, sta­tioned in Viet­nam, is furi­ous about Joe’s col­umn blam­ing war cor­re­spon­dents for the poor show­ing of Viet­namese Pres­i­dent Ngo Dinh Diem.  


He doesn’t know the coun­try, he breezes over here for a week, he stays with Lodge at the embassy, he gets his army car and dri­ver, Harkins puts a heli­copter at his dis­posal, he gets what­ever he wants… [Lines cut] –he notices that this man is not only a cor­rupt and incom­pe­tent and hope­less loser and dope, as the rest of us have been say­ing for months if not years, but also, by the way, actu­ally insane—He notices this… and then blames… the press! We did it! It’s all our fault!

p. 44:  Joe calls the edi­tor of the New York Times to explain why he wants him to fire his star reporters in Viet­nam. (less than a minute long)


Scotty. I’m sorry, I think we were acci­den­tally dis­con­nected. Well, why would you do that? (Pause.) All right, I’ll tell you pre­cisely where I get off call­ing the edi­tor of a rival news­pa­per and telling him to fire his “star” reporters. {Lines cut}

They are boys, god­damnit, they are boys! Does Shee­han even have his driver’s license? And if you let me know the date of Halberstam’s bar mitz­vah, I’ll be sure to send him some­thing nice—



p. 47:  Joe, on the phone with his brother, Stew­art, reacts to the news that Ngo Dinh Diem has been assas­si­nated by South Viet­namese generals.


How dare you hang up on me twice in a row, you mis­er­able son of a bitch, when all I am try­ing to do is help you? You—

Oh, hello, Stew­art, I’m sorry. Wel­come back. No, it’s—

Con­grat­u­la­tions for what?

[Lines cut]

He is not look­ing for an excuse to get out. That is a ludi­crous mis­read­ing of both the sit­u­a­tion and the man. Promise me you won’t write that any­where, you’ll just embar­rass your­self. He’s far more tough-minded than you give him credit for, or than you your­self seem to be at the moment, if you don’t mind my say­ing so.

Fine, I’ll set you straight over din­ner. Love to Tish.




Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Scenes:  

p. 6–7:  Joe lies in bed, talk­ing with a man he picked up in a bar in Moscow. Andrei tells Joe about his sis­ter, a laun­dress, and how she had once been a great ath­lete.  Starts with


Your Eng­lish is extremely good, you know that?

and ends with


That’s awful.

p. 17–18:  Joe and Porter on the night of Kennedy’s inau­gu­ra­tion.  Starts with


You are feel­ing good

and ends with


I have enough sense of his­tory to know that when a man in a tuxedo smok­ing a cigar announces “This is our moment,” he’s gen­er­ally fucked.

p.37–38:  Stew­art con­fronts Hal­ber­stam about some scur­rilous rumors cir­cu­lat­ing about Joe.  Starts with


David, take my advice. Don’t go pick­ing fights with Joe Alsop.

and ends with


                My brother’s “com­pro­mised” so he’s harder on the Soviets?

Gos­sip. Spite­ful, envi­ous sleaze that doesn’t even make sense on its face. I thought you were a bet­ter reporter than that. (STEWART puts down his drink.) Do you know, for a moment there I was actu­ally going to defend you to Joe? But now I think I’d bet­ter just say good after­noon, and go fuck yourself.


Select Bib­li­og­ra­phy of Reviews and Crit­i­cism:  (Note:  arti­cle title links are to the online ver­sions, mostly UW-only restricted unless des­ig­nated as open access.)

Feld­berg, R. (2012, Apr 26). Por­trait of a power bro­ker. The Record.

Fein­gold, M. (2012, May 02). The colum­nist: Neo­con job. [open access] The Vil­lage Voice, pp. 1

Jones, C. (2012, Apr 26). Engag­ing ‘colum­nist’ can’t get beyond bio­graph­i­cal. Chicago Tri­bune, pp. 4.6.

Sta­sio, M. (2012). The Colum­nist. Vari­ety, 426(12), 16.

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