Straight Line Crazy is playing a sold-out run at The Shed through December 18.
By Elazar Abrahams
Robert Moses is a complicated figure in New York lore. As an urban planner, he reshaped our city and state on a tremendous scale, with bridges and beaches and highways and everything in between. In the 1970s, the biography The Power Broker permanently changed the public’s perception of Moses, unmasking him as a power hungry racist who’s thirst for control had done irreparable damage to the Black and brown communities he had displaced for his projects. David Hare’s new play Straight Line Crazy peels back the curtain on Moses, examining class dynamics and seedy backroom politics along the way… or at least it attempts to.
The first act focuses on Moses’ start as Chairman of the Long Island State Park Commission, while the back half jumps decades to his decline during the failed fight to carve a highway right through the middle of Washington Square Park. Both are strange choices, as there are much more interesting chapters in the man’s career better suited for dramatic pulp, but there is a certain genius in seeing the rise, followed immediately by the fall.
One has to assume that a large factor in Straight Line’s tickets being snatched up is the opportunity to see Ralph Fiennes on the stage. While the former Dark Lord Voldemort is no doubt an expert at his craft, his role here doesn’t really get to showcase his immense talent. His Moses is quiet and introspective, but also prone to outbursts when he doesn’t get his way, yet those moments of catharsis don’t land with the audience like they should. This is no fault of Fiennes, with the problems lying in a weak and flimsy script that dumps info on the crowd like a tenth grade AP History class. Instead, it’s Danny Smith as Governor Al Smith that completely steals the show. Every scene he’s in is a delight as he relishes the grimy grit of local politics and chews up the scenery.
As a lover of New York’s rich history, I actually didn’t mind many of these problems. Hearing the nitty gritty details of how Long Island’s Nassau County became the area we know today was very interesting and kept me engaged. However, with a focus that has little to do with true character examination, I struggle to imagine Straight Line Crazy having any sort of mass appeal and unless you’re an Empire State fanatic as well, it may be best to skip this one.
You can join the wait list for tickets HERE.