Written by David Hare, this play centres around Robert Moses, the controversial civil engineer that wanted to build an expressway through Manhattan’s Soho District. He was “straight line crazy” you see. 

© Manuel Harlan

Robert Moses was one of the most powerful men in New York City. The power and influence he had to change the landscape of the city is crazy impressive. During his 44 years working, he build around 700 miles of road, 20,000 acres of parkland and public beaches, 658 playgrounds, 7 bridges, the UN headquarters, Central Park Zoo and Lincoln Centre. This all cost around 27 billion dollars. However, this also came at a heavy cost to anyone that was in Moses’ way as he simply evicted them. Around 500,000 we’re evicted from their homes during this time, to make way for whatever Moses was building at the time.

In Straight Line Crazy, Ralph Fiennes plays Moses. The play focuses on two time periods of his life, in 1926 and 1955. In 1926 he is controller of the parks on Long Island – and his plan is to open the beaches to holidaymakers. In 1955 he’s gained much more power and has begun his plans to dissect Manhattan.

There are only very subtle differences between the two time frames. If a character hadn’t said it had been 30 years, I probably wouldn’t have even clocked that we’d had a time jump.

Ralph Fiennes is on top form as expected. He’s an absolute powerhouse, and delivers a performance that means the character is fully dimensional – I’m sure in other hands this character would be pretty 1 dimensional. However I do feel it would have conveyed the trajectory better to have had a younger actor play Moses in Act 1 and then an older one in Act 2 – to show visually that time had passed. Apart from his gains of power not much changes about Moses throughout the play, he appears as egotistical and unwilling to listen to anyone else in both time periods.

Siobhan Cullen as Finnuala, a member of Moses’ core planning team, is also great, and worked well with the material she was given. The acting was great all round, I feel the play’s material is the issue here.

© Manuel Harlan

The play is just quite boring, roads aren’t that interesting, and the storyline just isn’t really there. And if Fiennes was not in the play, this would probably be a 1 or 2 star review.

Helen Schlesinger as Jane Jacobs is criminally underused throughout. It would have given the play much more depth for this character to have been a key player in the story. The play begins with her but then she seems to disappear mostly, and without her, this story just isn’t interesting.

Although they touched upon how people of colour living in New York were affected by Moses’ developments, it wasn’t fully realised or explored. Again this could’ve made the play more dramatic and interesting. Instead we’re left with a man that loves roads. Therefore not an entirely interesting play.

This play had the potential to shine a light on the impact Moses had, and explore the more interesting people in this story such as Jacobs. Although Fiennes and the cast are great, I wouldn’t really recommend this one. Unless you really love roads I guess?

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.
© Manuel Harlan

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