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In ‘Straight Line Crazy,’ Ralph Fiennes Turns ‘Master Builder’ Robert Moses Into a Big Bore


Ironies should be a lot in one play about Robert Mosesurban planner, “master builder” and subject of Robert CaroIconic and devastating biography Power broker who reshaped New York for more than four decades as its most powerful public official despite being crushed in one of his attempts to win elected office.

Those ironies begin and, unfortunately, most end with Crazy straight linethis week will be from London New York Off-Broadway premiere (until December 18) at the Warehouse Hudson Yards.

It’s the signature performance space in Manhattan’s posh new Far West Side that was erected on a multi-billion dollar platform atop a railroad yard to fulfill a long-disappointed dream of The business community is expanding the vast office blocks of Manhattan into what was once squalid unused land on one of the world’s most valuable islands.

But three and a half years after opening, complete with a rare new train station, many of Hudson Yards’ expensive apartments are unoccupied as wealthy tenants fled to greener pastures during the pandemic, Its anchor commercial tenant has gone bankrupt and its signature attracts the public, a 150-foot, 2,500-step staircase leading to nowhere known as “The Vessel”, has been “temporarily closed”. since a fourth person committed suicide by jumping off it last July.

Unlike Lincoln Center, which was built by John Rockefeller III as a non-profit effort after Moses used the famous field to claim and eliminate the existing community “slums” in the San Juan Hills and push the With mostly Black and Puerto Rican residents to upper Manhattan and the Bronx, Hudson Yards is the work of a private developer.

It’s Trump’s ally Stephen Rosswho has raked in billions of dollars in government assistance, including a new train station for his private and for-profit business in an increasingly rare case of something big and truly new. building in New York in the absence of a government official like Moses having the power to brutally accomplish such things in the public interest at least in name.

In a sense, it’s a premium version of a Marvel movie, with talented people hitting all the necessary beats while doing nothing to disappoint audiences’ fixed expectations of IP.

When it happens, Crazy straight line—State how Moses, as the play’s character Jane Jacobs tells the audience, “wants to lay a line between any two points and construct the position from which his ruler goes,” including, of course. both his infamous plan by which Jacobs helped create a highway through the heart of Manhattan — coming soon after the new $500 million David Geffen Hall is grandiose and far superior of Lincoln Center opened last month with a multimedia show about the San Juan Hills. (This is certainly a reminder that if you succeed in comforting the “wrong,” you can finally afford to give a loving and artistic tribute to those who were bulldozed first. when returning to business.)

However, such ironies are mostly lost in Crazy straight lineburied despite some stellar performances, solid direction and smart minimalist staging, features large maps and models and quietly tells Bob Crowley’s costume, in a sci-fi script and long-winded playwright David Hare is full of vivid aspects of the trajectories formed by people’s powers and their functions but does so to create a narrative that replaces much of the information. detail and breathtaking progression by urban fan service and “biggest hits”.

In a sense, it’s a premium version of a Marvel movie, with talented people hitting all the necessary beats while doing nothing to disappoint audiences’ fixed expectations of IP. — in this case it was probably reading most of it Power broker that once or only a nod of approval when TV talkers have a heavy and recognizable tome as part of their Zoom backdrop.

Man with a plan

Crowley explained in a brief note at the top of his script, but those two moments, decades apart, don’t quite connect, and in an attempt to reduce this extraordinary man, who was destined to be. Literally reimagining Empire State and Gotham City down to those moments, the film is all lost in the grand scheme of things.

The play opens with real promise, on Long Island in 1926 when young Moses shows up uninvited at Henry Vanderbilt’s (Guy Paul) estate and more so against the oligarch as he takes aim. the retaking of Nassau County from its nobles and opening. New public beaches and major roads leading to them for the relief of the city people.

This was followed by Moses in his Manhattan office delivering his steadfast vision to his activists, including Judith Roddy as Finnuala Connell (created), a young Irish woman with a soul of his own, who was drawn to Moses’ boldness of purpose. , and finally – the high point of the play – a lengthy meeting in his office, with his staff watching, between Moses Gov. Al Smith, his political patron and hero and the closest thing New York has made to Huey Long, a seducer, the hardline con man of a populist with presidential ambitions The country’s first Catholic.

Kate Glicksberg for The Shed

There’s a bit of drama here, but the acting is excellent, the dialogue is sharp and the back and forth is charming as Fiennes and Danny Webb, playing Smith as a rude-sounding but knowledgeable and charming executive, communicating through insults and side-by-side and showing affection and domination as two vastly different types of men with a shared understanding, while being aware of the staff being quietly receptive to all . That’s the number one priority.

After that, however, the action shifts to 1955, and the second action is flat in it—spoiler alert if you’ve missed the last 70 years of New York history and the current 50 years that cemented the antagonism. common sense about it—Moses’ plan to build a highway and destroy the Village in the process, after his Cross Bronx Highway ravages the area, is “hosted” by Jacobs and a group of unlucky ones. mainly women” interrupted, as he reluctantly said, “troublemakers” [who] technical drawings cannot be read”.

In both acts, Fiennes and Roddy, locked in their pure office marriage, are sublime, with each making subtle physical adjustments to aptly reflect 30 years of wear and tear. trail.

According to the play, opposition to him also abounds in his office. Alisha Bailey plays Mariah Heller, a young and ambitious black (made up) woman working for Moses – who can’t stand her much – who struggles to navigate becoming a rights representative his power and tell him the truth. Connell, who sees a lot of her young self in Heller, also seems to know from the start that Moses is going to fail, that he’s racist and car-crazed, and that many of the characters constantly inform the Moses and the audience about all that. .

Fiennes, in a stunning display of both physicality and frailty, has his Moses marched — unnoticed as his employee, and Jacobs, played by Helen Schlesinger, is a kind of man. more than a human being and acting as both a narrator and a character, forging the folly and futility of his vision in forging amazing new avenues for underserved New Yorkers. expensive.

In both acts, Fiennes and Roddy, locked in their pure office marriage, are sublime, with each making subtle physical adjustments to aptly reflect 30 years of wear and tear. trail. Eventually and predictably, Connell had enough and left, while Moses marched blindly, still “the frenzied line”.

And that’s about it, to a viewer who doesn’t know Moses there’s no way to understand how an ambitious young man used state power to open beaches to city dwellers. The city turned into a stiff old man who despised his fellow city dwellers. resident.

New York could use Moses for the story of Robert Moses

“Each generation writes its own history,” Kenneth T. JacksonNew York City judge historian, wrote in 2007, noted that while Power broker Reflecting a New York that had been in decline for 15 years, when it was published in 1974, “a lot of big projects were being discussed again, and that hinted at a Moses era without Moses.”

That really happens in flawed projects like Hudson Yards and having great difficulty in building new train lines or buildings or other large scale plans and in transforming what is already here. — in large part because protections are sometimes put in place to prevent another figure like a power broker from simply imposing their plans..

But at a time after the COVID shutdown as the city and state face great uncertainties and challenges ahead, New York is still telling stories of the dangers of a Robert Moses even when it could use one Moses for affordable housing, one Moses to save trains, one Moses to transform the streets and end automotive dominance.

One more irony: New York could use a Moses for the story of Robert Moses, someone who can connect his accomplishments, good and bad, with the kind of vision needed now to ensure Gotham City and the Empire State’s best days are not behind them instead offering new versions of a moral story as comfort food.

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