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.