David Hare’s new drama, The Vertical Hour, the first of his plays to premier on Broadway, continues his discussion of the war in Iraq, which was the basis of his most recent New York production, Stuff Happens, at the Public theatre. The central character is played by the much acclaimed film star Julianne Moore, an actress whose film work reflects thoughtful subtleties. Making her Broadway debut here she is decidedly miscast in a role that appears to be complex, but which is unfortunately underdeveloped.
Moore plays a Yale political science professor, Nadia Blye, an expert on terrorism, who was previously a war correspondent and is well known for her right wing views on the war. In the play she is thrown into a pointed debate with Oliver Lucas, a liberal country doctor, who has harsh criticism for the war in Iraq. The weathered British actor Bill Nighy plays Oliver, a character that seems to have been more fully fleshed out by the playwright; Hare has given him some of the evening’s best lines. Andrew Scott is a physical therapist Philip, Nadia’s fiancé and Oliver’s estranged son. He completes a triangle that makes up the principal cast.
Nadia and Philip have traveled to Shropshire, an isolated rural spot in England near the Welsh border to meet Philip’s father. Most of the play takes place in Oliver’s garden beautifully and minimally recreated by set designer Scott Pask with outstanding lighting effects by Brian MacDevitt that are stunning.
The confrontations between Nadia and Oliver feel rather preachy even if they do give the playwright ample opportunity to share intelligent views on the war as well as a multitude of other things. The smart script is packed with many witty lines and often makes for a compelling debate, but ultimately lacks dramatic impact. The second act of the rather long evening is more successful than the tedious first.
Julianne Moore as Nadia is charming and luminous, but she is just not believable as the opinionated journalist. She is not tough enough and inherently too nice in a performance that doesn’t go far enough. She often appears to be apologizing for her beliefs rather than expressing a committed stance with passion. There are many moments the performance feels indicated rather than lived in.
The character actor Bill Nighy as the rural doctor gives a highly mannered and postured performance that seems utterly contrived. He delivers a completely inorganic display of theatrics that I found annoyingly distracting. He appears to be outrageously playing to the audience with a dazzling display of artful technique instead of relating to the other characters.
Andrew Scott as his son Philip, who is smitten with Nadia and fears his womanizing father will destroy their relationship, is everything Mr. Nighy is not. He is truthfully organic, in a riveting performance that accumulates with surprising nuance.
The play has been helmed by the British director Sam Mendes, who won an Oscar for directing his first American film “American Beauty” and brought Broadway his productions of The Blue Room and the Tony Award winning revival of Cabaret, which originated at London’s Donmar Warehouse, where he is the founding Artistic Director. His handsome production is simple allowing for the philosophical views and moralistic opinions, on terrorism and capitalism to be heard. If the evening doesn’t fully satisfy as theatre it is nonetheless jam packed with tasty ideas.
gordin & christiano
The Vertical Hour opened on Broadway at the Music Box Theatre, 239 West 45th Street on November 30, 2006. Tickets are available at HYPERLINK "http://www.telecharge.com" www.telecharge.com call 212-239-6200 or visit the box office.
Originally Published in Dan's Papers