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D.B. Woodside

D.B. Woodside - "The Conscientious Objector" Play - Backstage.com Review

Wednesday 19 March 2008, by Webmaster

The Conscientious Objector is not the flashiest show to hit the stage this season. In fact, given the production’s monochromatic design palette, some people might consider it dowdy. But glitz isn’t everything, and Michael Murphy’s drama, directed with simplicity by Carl Forsman, compellingly brings a tumultuous slice of American history to the stage.

Almost Shakespearean in scope and partially drawn from historical records, the play tracks just over three years in the mid 1960s, following Rev. Martin Luther King (a formidable turn from DB Woodside) and President Johnson (played with crusty Texan verve by John Cullum) as they formulate their public and personal responses to the escalating war in Vietnam. Pressures from their supporters and from one another only make the men’s journeys more difficult.

Johnson pressures King to remain silent to avoid derailing pending civil rights legislation. Within his own ranks, King also faces division. James Bevel (an overly manic Jimonn Cole) urges King to speak out against the war, a view also held by King’s wife (a quietly commanding Rachel Leslie), while Stanley Levison (Steve Routman) and Ralph Abernathy (Bryan Hicks) caution against diluting King’s civil rights work.

As King begins speaking publicly on foreign policy, Johnson’s supporters, including J. Edgar Hoover (multiply cast Jonathan Hogan in one of several impeccable turns), find ways to discredit King. Even as these attacks occur, though, Johnson seems to waver in his animosity toward King, confronting his own conflicting emotions about King and the war.

It’s powerful stuff that unfolds on a stage backed by a painted black-and-white flag and outfitted with only four metal chairs and a metal desk (scenic design from Beowulf Boritt). The play ends with Coretta Scott King reading her husband’s Ten Commandments of Vietnam, and the timeliness of this simply told history reverberates thrillingly.

Presented by Keen Company

at the Clurman Theatre, 410 W. 42nd St., NYC.

March 18-April 19. Tue., 7 p.m.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.

(212) 279-4200 or www.ticketcentral.com.