Los Angeles Theater Review: YES, PRIME MINISTER (Geffen Playhouse in Westwood)

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by Jason Rohrer on June 13, 2013

in Theater-Los Angeles


Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister were BBC television shows that ran on American PBS stations when I was a kid; I resented them for not being Monty Python, and dismissed them, and never thought twice about them until I heard Ron Jason Rohrer's Stage and Cinema LA review of "Yes, Prime Minister" at Geffen Playhouse.Bottitta was going to be in some kind of stage resurrection at the Geffen.  Then I got excited.  When I heard that stars like Michael McKean and Dakin Matthews and Jefferson Mays and Tara Summers and Stephen Caffrey and Brian George and Time Winters also were in the show, I knew he was in good company.  But I went to see Mr. Bottitta.  One does, when one has seen him in large and small parts around Los Angeles, in good and bad plays, but always wonderful.  Imagine my disappointment when he, Sasha Higgins, and Matthew Floyd Miller turned out not to have speaking parts (though they understudy several roles, so you never know).

Jason Rohrer's Stage and Cinema LA review of "Yes, Prime Minister" at Geffen Playhouse.Well, you will have to imagine my disappointment, because there wasn’t any.  This show does after all feature one of the most accomplished casts likely to grace a Los Angeles stage this year, such that an actor the stature of Ron Bottitta may fairly be used as set dressing.  And it is funny with great regularity, in that sustained low-key humor which keeps an audience in a good mood for hours.

As written by Jonathan Lynn and Antony Jay, and directed by Mr. Lynn (the team was responsible for the five-season run of BBC Minister shows between 1980 and 1988), it’s also a lovely, if slight, entertainment of rare literacy.  Having run for years in London and currently on a British tour, the 2010 play (with amendments for American audiences) concerns characters familiar to fans of the TV shows during one panic-stricken night at Chequers, the country residence (perhaps not for long) of an empty suit of a British Prime Minister, Jim Hacker (Mr. McKean).

Jason Rohrer's Stage and Cinema LA review of "Yes, Prime Minister" at Geffen Playhouse.The PM’s chief advisers, the silky and duplicitous Sir Humphrey (an outrageously well-timed Mr. Matthews), the vicious but loyal Claire (Ms. Summers), and the unctuous prig Bernard (Mr. Mays), wrestle morally, politically, and physically for the fate of the European Union, and for their political futures.  Mostly they say clever things.  Language is a luxury of educated people, and this show often feels like a sumptuous couch: if the characters’ urgency isn’t always forefront, their comforting eloquence is.  To see hyper-articulate people speaking with distinction is to be reassured of a higher culture not entirely deceased.

Jason Rohrer's Stage and Cinema LA review of "Yes, Prime Minister" at Geffen Playhouse.This is not to say that Yes, Prime Minister plumbs any great intellectual or spiritual depths.  To be sure, the dialogue and business frequently slant toward a facile, situation comedy-type fatuousness.  It’s an entertainment.  If the workings of a venal administration desperate to keep a clutch on power don’t interest you – including debates on the advisability of assassination, pimping, and lying wholesale to one’s constituency, in service of an unconscionable oil pipeline scheme being pushed by an even more corrupt foreign power – perhaps the vision of a stately set (transferred whole across the Atlantic by its original London designer, Simon Higlett) being splattered with whiskey will amuse.

Jason Rohrer's Stage and Cinema LA review of "Yes, Prime Minister" at Geffen Playhouse.Or you may enjoy the specifically Thespian heroism of Michael McKean (Laverne & Shirley‘s Lenny, and This is Spinal Tap‘s David St. Hubbins) playing the Prime Minister of the British Commonwealth.  You may be delighted to find that at this stage in a long career, Dakin Matthews is incapable of an infelicitous gesture or inflection even in a large and extremely talky role.  Or to find that even after seeing him in a dozen previous completely invested characters, you can fail utterly to recognize Stephen Caffrey in his persona as a pushy BBC newsman.  Ultimately Mr. Lynn’s cool-handed direction sweeps these elements into a pleasing reverie on the difficulties of getting your act together and presenting that act in such a way as to avoid censure.  I don’t know anyone above benefiting from a refresher lesson in comportment.

photos by Michael Lamont

Yes, Prime Minister
Geffen Playhouse in Westwood
scheduled to end on July 14, 2013
for tickets, visit http://www.geffenplayhouse.com

{ 1 comment }

Stanley Singer July 9, 2013 at 8:19 pm

This performance was as good as it gets. I attend the theater very often, and this was without a doubt the most enjoyable show I have seen in the last several years. I have recommended it to everyone I know

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