Meet John Doe | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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MEET JOHN DOE, Shattered Globe Theatre, at Viaduct Theater. Robert Riskin's 1941 screenplay, based on his own short story, may be fifth-rate Clifford Odets, but director Frank Capra and dynamic leading man Gary Cooper almost made it seem meaningful social criticism. Columnist Ann Mitchell ignites a civic uproar when she prints a fake letter from a "John Doe" who wants to protest the fact that "the whole world is going to pot" by jumping off the roof of city hall on Christmas Eve. Her newspaper's unscrupulous, power-hungry publisher, Norton, then hires a stand-in for John Doe who makes scripted pleas for simple neighborliness, which spawns a national movement.

Capra's ingenuity and Cooper's charisma as John Doe give the tale urgency despite its thin central conceit. Without the same star power, Shattered Globe's overly faithful stage adaptation flounders: adapters Dori Robinson and Louis Contey (who also directs) follow the film almost line for line, though they wisely borrow some of the more pointed political material from Riskin's short story. But the cast's broad, superficial take on Depression-era acting exacerbates the script's weaknesses. As John Doe, Joe Forbrich is a generic palooka without the childlike vulnerability that might make his naive idealism credible. Though Julie Granata as Ann and Ben Werling as Norton are convincing, most of this two-and-a-half-hour evening feels as inauthentic as the trio of singing hobos who serenade the audience during particularly unwieldy scene changes.

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