Straight Line Crazy: David Hare’s ‘most dramatically gripping’ play for decades
Ralph Fiennes is a ‘triumph’ as the controversial urban planner Robert Moses
David Hare’s new play is his “most dramatically gripping and politically thoughtful” for decades – and in the main role, Ralph Fiennes is a “triumph”, said Mark Lawson in The Guardian. He plays Robert Moses, the controversial urban planner who shaped the New York metropolitan area for the age of the automobile, and influenced a generation of US civil engineers, architects and planners.
The play focuses on two contrasting episodes from Moses’s long career. In 1926, he strong-armed New York’s governor Al Smith into approving two giant expressways linking the city to Long Island. Then, in 1955, he failed in his attempt to put a road through Washington Square Park. It sounds dry, but the play “crackles” with “dynamic, ideas-driven dialogue” about the duel between elected and unelected power.
I am afraid that crackle is exactly what is missing, said Clive Lewis in The Times. Straight Line Crazy is an “uneven and often didactic play held together by a compelling, larger-than-life central performance”.
Fiennes is indeed “terrific” as the megalomaniacal “highwayman of a town planner”, said Patrick Marmion in the Daily Mail, but the play is oddly disjointed. In the first half, there’s a gripping long scene (“30 minutes of Hare’s greatest writing”) in which Danny Webb is on “blistering” form as Smith. Alas, the second half “dwindles into more of a critical essay”, with no similar visceral antagonist to drive the action.
What action, asked David Benedict in Variety. The play consists of long discussions – “energised by hard-working actors” – but almost “nothing happens”. And Hare is “painfully reliant on exposition”: right up to the end, characters are “explaining things to people who already know what they’re being told, so as to inform the audience”.
In place of drama, Hare gives us a series of “verbose and largely static Ibsenite confrontations”, said Sam Marlowe in The i Paper. Nicholas Hytner’s staging is “predictably deft and tasteful”. But it’s “all, frankly, a bit boring”.
Bridge Theatre, London SE1. Until 18 June