By Myra Chanin
In order to fully understand, both intellectually and emotionally, that and how broadcast news reached its present nadir – and also how glorious it was during its peak, spend 90 minutes with a fine facsimile of Edward R. Murrow, the man who turned news reporting into “a powerful weapon for truth.”
In case you (sob!) don’t know who Murrow was, and you (sob! sob!) suffer from the mistaken notion that information about what’s happening in the world should be dispersed as it is presently by (ugh!) Wolf Blitzer or (ugh! ugh!) Lyin’ Brian Williams, Murrow, the play, will set your records straight. Edward R. Murrow (1908-1965) was a CBS radio and television news giant (1940-1961), renowned for his honesty and integrity, who first attracted notice during World War II when he broadcast live nightly radio reports from London rooftops, accompanied by the cacophony of Nazi bombers decimating the city.
Murrow, the man, furnishes the frame for Murrow, the reporter. Both are magnificently brought to life via a superb collaboration between playwright Joseph Vitale, performer Joseph J. Menino and director Jeremy Williams. Bravo! Bravo! Bravo! for individually and jointly doing Murrow proud.
Joseph Vitale’s impeccable research included immersing himself into biographies of Murrow, published records of his actual broadcasts and recollections of the late Fred W. Friendly, a president of CBS News who co-created with Murrow the prize-winning historical documentary series, “See It Now!” Vitale also spoke at length with Murrow’s only son, Casey, acquiring permission from him and the Murrow Estate to quote from Murrow’s scripts and letters. I believe the entire play is based on words said or written by Murrow. How powerfully do those words still resonate? You’d be hard pressed to find any phrases more powerful, honest or worth repeating.
Jeremy Williams’ staging is imaginative, elegant, versatile but simple, with projections of black and white stills and kinescope clips reprising the period in which Murrow worked. An old fashioned corner with a traditional lamp and a red leather armchair represents home/office. A large rectangular wooden block with a moveable microphone on it does double duty as Murrow’s desk/studio and becomes a rooftop whenever Menino steps on it and utters Murrow’s iconic phrase, “This … is London.”
A word about The Wild Theater facility. Behind its white storefront façade sits a neat, modern, elegantly designed space with comfortable stadium seating, great lighting, fine acoustics and a very flexible stage. I have never seen anything but top drawer, ultra-imaginative productions at this venue.
Merino’s Murrow is the class act that the original deserved. His resemblance to Morrow was impressive and I was utterly enthralled by his performance. It never felt like a One-Man Show. Merino’s subtle mobility emphasized Murrow’s words and thoughts as I sat in the dark, scribbling notes of thrilling phrases which I found so worth remembering by this man for all seasons who curiously had been most inspired by two woman, his proper Quaker mother and a college speech teacher, who’d been crippled by polio as a child.
His mother’s oft repeated instructions? It is better to wear out than rust. His teacher, Ida Lou Anderson, directed Murrow to the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius in which he found his mantra: If you work at that which is before you, following right reason seriously, vigorously, calmly without allowing anything else to distract you, but keeping your divine part pure, as if you might be bound to give it back immediately; if you hold to this, expecting nothing, fearing nothing, but satisfied with your present activity according to nature . . . you will be happy. And there is no man who is able to prevent this.
To follow Vitale’s Murrow through recent history is a privilege. His conclusions on the liberation of Buchenwald and the demagoguery of the late Senator Joseph McCarthy supply warnings that are still and may forever be essential.
No downsides about Murrow? Only one. In a tradeoff with CBS Chief William Paley, unmentioned in the play, Murrow agreed to host the first celebrity interview show, the highly popular “Person-to-Person,” in order to keep his high-cost, low rated “See It Now!” series on the air, so I guess we have him to blame for the (Argghhh!!) Kardashians. Nevertheless, by the time I arrived home, samples of Murrow biographies awaited me on my Kindle.
Phoenix Theatre Ensemble’s Production
At The Wild Project 195 E. Third Street, NY, NY 10009
May 4-7, 12-14, 17-21 @ 8 PM May 8 & 12 @ 3 PM, May 11 @ 2 PM Run Time: 90 minutes
www.PhoenixTheatreEnsemble.org Box Office: 212-352-3101