Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

Feiffer play is collection of short sketches

Cleveland Press January 30, 1971

If you like your humor offbeat, satirical and a trifle black, then "The White House Murder Case," which opened at the Play House Drury Theater last night, is perfect for your taste.

Satirist, cartoonist and playwright Jules Feiffer looks at the political, military, scientific complex through vinegar colored glasses and the view is hilarity dripping with venom. Feiffer's play is less a play than it is a pungently funny commentary on a sick society.

The time is a few years from now with a presidential election due in a few weeks. The United States is fighting a peace war in Brazil and the enemy is described as Chico instead of gook.

THE U.S. FORCES have just used nerve gas but the wind blew the wrong way (a meteorological variance is what it is officially called) and the gas killed 750 of our side and paralyzed another 90. Or, as the secretary of defense puts it, the expected results were counter-achieved.

Back at the White House, the President and members of his cabinet have to figure out a way to explain this to the public.

Everyone is so logical and polite as they go about their public relation mission of developing the big lie that the lunacy of it all fairly shrieks out at you.

The murder of the title occurs at the end of the first act. The President's wife, dedicated to the peace effort and an active sign carrier in its behalf, is stabbed with a sign reading, "Make love not war."

PART TWO almost forgets the nerve gas problem as it deals with the problem of the killing of the First Lady, the investigation of which should be dropped, many of the Cabinet feel, in the national interest.

The First Lady just had no grasp of what was good for the country is the Cabinet consensus. Earlier the President explained her faults to her by telling her that she has a 19th Century mentality and thinks all problems are solvable.

Covering up the murder gets the same lunatic dishonesty as the nerve gas concealment.

Feiffer's play jumps back and forth from White House to battlefield where two soldiers are slowly disintegrating from the effects of the gas.

THE SWITCHING only halts the action of the play and the battlefield scenes are filled with grisly humor and a strained philosophy. Without them the play would have been smoother. It also would have been a one~act play. Plotting is not Feiffer's strong point. Neither is structure and neither is characterization

He has ideas and he has the right touch for satire. He has the bureaucratic jargon down cold. It is so accurate it is frightening. The sounds of the words, the glib explanations are not a few years hence: they are now.

Eugene Hare 's two-part set, the White House room surrounded by a battlefield is imaginative and workable.

Director Richard Oberlin does not allow the action to linger nor does he permit Feiffer's constant scene changing to make gaps in the flow of the play.

HlS ACTING company creates characterization differences where Feiffer failed to do so. Robert Allnan's postmaster-general is a smooth manipulator. Allen Leatherman as the general suggests the military robot. Guest actor Ted Hallaman as the President is a low-key Walter Matthau-earnest, insecure, horrified and finally resigned.

Ronald Greene and Robert Thorson struggle with the hopeless roles of the soldiers.

Feiffer works best in short bits. Look at "The White House Murder Case" that way- a series of very funny short sequences that are better individually than they are in total.