- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 20, 2002

A play that unfolds chiefly through meetings and telephone calls what could be drearier?

Actually, the opposite is true with "Shakespeare, Moses, and Joe Papp" at the Round House Theatre. Ernie Joselovitz's work is sharp and entertaining, a slice of theatrical legend that is both tart and satisfying.
The Shakespeare in the title is self-explanatory, and most theater mavens should know the late Joe Papp, who founded the New York Shakespeare Festival/Public Theater and that venerable summer institution, free Shakespeare in Central Park.
Unless you're big on city planning, the name Robert Moses may not tumble from your lips. From the 1920s through the 1960s, the titular Mr. Moses built many of New York's bridges, tunnels, highways and roadways (he came up with the idea of tolls for bridges and tunnels), and much public housing. His other appointment was as head of parks and planning.
Not only did Mr. Moses run these divisions, he felt as though he owned them. The bridges were his towering babies, the parks his private playgrounds. So when the brash and headline-grabbing theater impresario Joe Papp burst onto the scene in the late 1950s, demanding that Central Park's Great Lawn be open for free Shakespeare, Mr. Moses took it personally really personally.
That's the crux of the play. As the Narrator (the nimble Andrew Ross Wynn) sets it up, Moses (Gerry Bamman) is the monster and Papp (John Lescault) is the visionary. After all, Moses is a wealthy German Jew, very traditional and old school, and insulated by wealth and power. Papp is a brash gate-crasher, the child of newer immigrants from Eastern Europe. He is not high-born but has high ideals.
However, Mr. Joselovitz's play proposes that the two men had more in common than they might like to admit. Both were megalomaniacs, who glommed onto an idea with a passion that obliterated everything in their wake. Moses looks at his crowning achievement, the architectural model for the Verrazano Bridge and proclaims "What price beauty?" Papp feels the same way about Shakespeare in the Park that the idea is right and good and that no one should stand in his way.
This makes for some outstanding fireworks between the two men, who embody the lifelong struggle between art and commerce. Moses snobbish and officious and Papp fiery and finagling are spectacular together in their showdowns and equally as combustible when dealing with their staffs. Moses has his handsome, wood-paneled office and Papp a hole-in-the-wall room equipped with a typewriter missing the letter "w."
What is delicious about "Shakespeare, Moses" is how it takes us into the backrooms where big deals are made. The people who would benefit from Shakespeare in the Park are barely mentioned, let alone ever seen. Instead, we see the mano-a-mano battles taking place in the office of the cannily politic Mayor Robert F. Wagner (Mitchell Hebert), who wants everyone to be happy, just so long as he winds up looking good, and the various contretemps between Papp, Moses and a phalanx of lawyers (all distinctly played by Mr. Wynn).
The play has a jazzy, snappy air that reflects the urban energy of New York in the late 1950s and America's attitude that anything is possible. "Shakespeare, Moses, and Joe Papp," with its rat-a-tat dialogue and snappy patter evokes a gentler version of David Mamet's "Glengarry Glen Ross."
You would not want to hang out with the men in this play or get on their wrong sides, but it is nasty fun to spend a couple of hours watching their gears spin.

WHAT: "Shakespeare, Moses, and Joe Papp"
WHERE: Round House Theatre, 12210 Bushey Drive, Silver Spring. This is the final run at this location, before the theater moves to its new 450-seat building in Bethesda.
WHEN: Tickets are left only for 8 p.m. April 24 and 26, 3 p.m. April 27, and 8 p.m. May 1 through May 4
TICKETS: $23 to $31
PHONE: 240/644-1100

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