The Moose That Roared
nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
June 14, 2012
It would seem that in this country we have been debating the same subjects for over a century. The question of how can we regulate big business, maintain small government and how to protect our environment from greedy opportunists was on a lot of folks' minds at the turn of the last century. Tux and Tom Productions has cobbled together an engaging and often edifying script that may give you hope that there are still some politicians out there that have the greater good in mind.
The play opens with a clearly shaken Theodore Roosevelt announcing to an audience waiting to hear him speak that he has been shot—but “it takes more than that to kill a bull moose” he says. Roosevelt, who at that time had already served two terms as President, was now running for a third term, and that set John Schrank off so much that he decided to assassinate him. Roosevelt was coming out against his hand-picked successor for President, William Taft, who had been going against some of Roosevelt’s key policies. The straw that broke his back was the firing of conservationist Gifford Pinchot for trying to start an inquiry into a politician who was abusing his power in favor of big timber interests in our national forests. Roosevelt first received this news while on safari in Africa for the Smithsonian Institute and he soon returned to New York to begin what would become the Progressive Party.
The script toggles amongst conversations between Teddy and his son Kermit while on safari, President Taft and his wife Helen, and Pinchot appealing to Roosevelt for help, while interspersing segments of Roosevelt’s speech and Schrank’s psychotic soliloquies about his reasons for wanting to kill Roosevelt. Playwrights Chris Chappell and Patrice Miller cleverly weave together original dialogue with actual texts taken from Roosevelt’s speech that day and quotes from some of the main characters. I really enjoyed hearing some of the things that were actually said by these historical figures. Chappell and Miller do an excellent job of matching their original dialogue with the elevated style of speech popular among the aristocrats of the time. Directed by Miller, the play moves slowly toward a terse ending sequence that certainly makes the show worth its time on stage. I loved the element of transformation present in every scene as the characters gradually add pieces of animal costumes to become safari animals. Miller’s juxtaposition of Schrank crouching to shot Roosevelt with Roosevelt doing the same to take aim at a rhino was quite compelling.
The cast is also compelling. The performances are passionate and inspired. Justin Holcomb plays Teddy with a perfect blend of bravado and sincerity. Bob Laine’s Taft is just insecure enough to make this man a real person with real anxieties. Ivanna Cullinan skillfully hints at Helen Taft’s speech impediment after she suffered a stroke, delivering ardent bids to her husband to not give up. Paul Murillo’s Schrank is cool and clearly a little crazy and yet he still manages to have him come across as a reasonable guy. Jesse Wilson is also good as the vexing Pinchot. William Webber is an honest Kermit and Olivia Baseman is strong and lovely as Edith Roosevelt.
This production is a part of The Brick’s ingenious plan to have the winner of their democracy-themed summer programs take over the Presidency of The Brick for a while. So get out and see some shows and make your voice heard! The Moose That Roared is certainly deserving of the title with this smart and well thought out production. It speaks softly and packs a bit of punch.