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.

Maple and Vine – Jordan Harrison


First produced at the Humana Festival of New American Plays in March 2011; and had its New York premiere at Playwrights Horizons in December 2011.

Original Cast:

Katha  (mid to late 30s)                                                                  Kate Turnbull
Ryu (mid to late 30s)                                                                       Peter Kim
Dean (late 30s)                                                                               Paul Niebanck
Ellen/Jenna (late 30s.  Also plays Jenna)                                     Jeanine Serralles
Roger/Omar (mid to late 30s.  Also plays Omar)                         Jesse Pennington

Director:  Anne Kauffman
Scenic Design:
  Brian Sidney Bembridge
Costume Design:  Connie Furr Soloman
Lighting Design:  Jeff Nellis
Sound Design:  Benjamin Marcum
Properties Design:  Alice Baldwin
Stage Manager:  Melissa Rae Miller
Dramaturg:  Amy Wegener

Publication:  Harrison, Jordan. Maple and Vine. Samuel French. 2012.  Drama Library, PS3608. A78348 M37 2012

Setting:  There are many locations, both in the present and past

Language:  Contemporary


I think…people aren’t happy. People have never been happy. The whole idea is a tyranny. Slaves building the pyraminds…Serfs. They didn’t have enough time to ask “Am I happy?” This is not even a hundred-year-old idea: “Am I happy.”

Genre/Style:  Darkly comedic drama.

Plot:  A contemporary, professional couple decides to abandon their Manhattan lifestyle for a simpler existence right out the 1950s, 1955 to be exact, with a group of people who have recreated Eisenhower America somewhere in the Midwest, the SDO, the Society of Dynamic Obsolescence.  The play’s premise holds a lot of promise, however, it doesn’t satisfactorily deal with the various issues it raises.  Particularly interesting is a sub-plot involving two secondary characters who are far more interesting than the two lead characters.

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

p.14:  Dean speaks about the difference between the modern world and the world of 1955. 


It wasn’t that the modern world was too fast, or too noisy. In a way, it was too quiet. Let me explain.  IN the 21st century, everything’s pretty easy, right? You have your thrive-thru espresso. Your drive-thru pharmacy. Or why go to the store when you can get it online? You hardly have to interact with anyone—except for all those people you’ve never en met who enter your life through our computer, pulling you every which way.

 [Lines cut]

In the modern world, I used to make it through half the day without talking to a single soul. I used to have it so easy. And now, looking back—I realize how lonely I was.

p.39:  Ellen explains her work on the Authenticity Committee.


We take our job very seriously on the Authenticity Committee.  It’s not just clothes and mimeograph machines—it’s about everyone’s emotional experience.  And the question we have to answer again and again is how far do you take it.

We have people from all walks of life in the SDO. And the question sometimes is how do we respond authentically to these people. [Lines cut] It can be complicated to navigate, but authenticity is very important to us.

p.74:  Roger responds after Ryu tries to blackmail him into putting him up for a raise by insinuating that he saw Roger and Dean kissing outside of his house.


Let me tell you about a heap of trouble, Ryu. See, I know you’re really a nice guy. And I know you wouldn’t want to do something to mess up your prospects here. Because I’ve been giving you the good word. I’ve seen lots of people come through here and nobody does well without the good word from the floor manager. Especially the non-whites. [Lines cut] So why don’t you keep your head down and do your work and eat your fucking bologna. See you later.


Representative Scenes:

p.43-44:  Ryu and Katha are discussing what to do if they decide they need to talk about the 21st century while living in the past. Starts with


What if we had a Safe Word.

and ends with


I like Ike!

I like Ike!

I like Ike!

I like Ike!

p.95-96:  Ryu and Kathy are now the leading couple in town.  Starts with

(RYU speaks out.  KATHY stands farther off, enormously pregnant now.)


First of all, welcome.  Welcome to the SDO.

and ends with


(hand to her belly) The present.


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

Carter, A. T. (2012, Oct 22). ‘Maple and vine’s’ sentimental journey doesn’t lead where expected. Tribune – Review / Pittsburgh Tribune – Review. (Review of Pittsburgh production)

Cox, G. (2011). Trio of shows shines at Humana fest. Variety, 422(10), 23. (Review of production at the Humana Festival)

D’Souza, K. (2012, Apr 12). Unplug at ‘maple and vine’. Contra Costa Times, p. T.20.  (Review of San Francisco production at ACT)

Isherwood, C. (2011, Dec 08). Exchanging lattes for an ‘ozzie and harriet’ world. New York Times, p. C.1. (Review of NY production at Playwrights Horizons)

Kennedy, L. (2013, Jan 11). Curious theatre wrestles with nostalgia at “maple and vine”. Denver Post, p. C6. (Review of Denver production)

Kennedy, L. (2013, Jan 18). Darkly fun “maple and vine” sends modern pair to 1955. Denver Post, p. C12. (Review of Denver production)

Maple and Vine. (2011). Daily Variety, 313(47), 3. (Review of NY production at Playwrights Horizons)

SHEWARD, D. (2011). Less Is More at Louisville. Back Stage, 52(15), 12-13. (Review of production at the Humana Festival)

SHEWARD, D. (2011). Maple and Vine at Playwrights Horizons. Back Stage, 52(50), 40-41. (Review of NY production at Playwrights Horizons)

Soloski, A. (2011, Sep 07). Fall arts: Playwright jordan harrison’s simple plan: “maple and vine”. The Village Voice. [open access] (Review of NY production at Playwrights Horizons)

Vincentelli, E. (2011, Dec 08). An era-neous take on 1950s. New York Post,p. 61. (Review of NY production at Playwrights Horizons)

Weinert-Kendt, R. (2011, Nov 27). Back to the ’50s, trying to escape freedom’s pitfalls. New York Times, p. AR.4. (Review of NY production at Playwrights Horizons)