STONEWALL JACKSON'S HOUSE, Next Theatre Company. George S. Kaufman once said that "satire is what closes Saturday night." A devilish form, satire demands that the playwright be both storyteller and editorial writer. If the story flags, then the play becomes mere hectoring. And if the writer fails to skewer his subject, the play has no edge.
In this labored assault on political correctness, Jonathan Reynolds fails as both dramatist and opinion maker, though he starts out strong with a preposterous tour of Stonewall Jackson's home in Lexington, Virginia, led by an unhappy African-American woman. Breaking every taboo, the woman eventually begs an Ohio couple to make her their slave--but the story quickly loses steam when it's revealed that this is just a play being considered by a fictional off-Broadway theater. What follows is an act and a half of talk as each member of the company and the play's author discuss all its merits and failings.
Reynolds does score some palpable hits, but even a child can see the contradictions in the uncodified rules of political correctness. And good points alone don't make a good satire. One also needs a strong point of view, and Reynolds prefers the safe, boring position that "you're all crazy." More damaging, however, is his inability to tell a tale worth listening to. And nothing in Kate Buckley's competent production--not even Ann Joseph's superb comic performance as the theater's African-American dramaturge--compensates for Reynolds's fuzzy POV or static story. --Jack Helbig