By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
At the Rusk memorial, McNamara meets a bitter wartime amputee (Armstrong), who happens to be the brother of the college dean (Keliher Walsh). Added to this mix is a trio of students (Corbett Tuck, Tracey A. Leigh and Kim Chueh), who busy themselves with a vaguely described project that involves tunneling underneath Mills. In some ways the three young women are Hickman’s most striking invention — student activists who have only the faintest grasp of the passionate protests that swirled around McNamara’s policies so many years before. The play’s moral point of departure is McNamara’s 1995 book, In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam, in which he admits his wartime belief that U.S. policy in Southeast Asia was completely wrong — even though he kept his opinions so deeply private that they had no impact on foreign policy. This was McNamara’s cardinal sin of omission and why, despite his subsequent attempts, as head of the World Bank, to alleviate Third World hunger, he became such a reviled figure in his twilight years.
Bright Boy is a show with shifting focuses, and before long it’s apparent that Hickman, despite her skill for mixing political observation with slapstick, has thrown too many ingredients into her brew to make it jell. (Even the enigmatic dig being conducted by the three students includes a subplot.) The most obvious symptom of this urbane sprawl might be Brown’s performance as McNamara — a simplistic turn, directed by James Eckhouse, that ignores the character’s complexity. Still, Eckhouse’s production is sincere without becoming earnest, and superbly aided by scenic designer Laura Fine’s tumble of decrepit file cabinets, camouflage netting and a floor painted as a giant punch card.
Perhaps Sobol and Hickman should switch their presentations by making Jägerstätter’s final days a series of burlesque skits and McNamara’s ordeal a tone poem of regret. Those old enough to remember the Tonkin Gulf summer of 1964 will never forget the image of McNamara, pointing to a map of Vietnam, indicating where the bombs had just fallen — and would continue to fall for the next eight years. Discovering why McNamara lacked Jägerstätter’s strength of character to put himself on the line for his changing beliefs would be worth the admission price for both plays.?
iWITNESS | By JOSHUA SOBOL | At the Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., dwntwn. | Through May 21 | (213) 628-2772
BRIGHT BOY: The Passion of Robert McNamara | By KATY HICKMAN | Ensemble Studio Theater L.A. at the Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Ave., Venice | Through May 7 | (213) 368-9552