Monday, July 28, 2008


Yesterday afternoon I braved the heat (it wasn’t too bad) for a trip to NYC to see the revival of the British comedy SOME AMERICANS ABROAD by Richard Nelson at the Second Stage Theatre on 43rd Street.

I learned about the show when its star, Tom Cavanaugh (tv’s ED), appeared on the CW11 morning news program. I did not at all recall the original production, which appeared at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre in May and June of 1990 with a cast that included Nathan Lane, Kate Burton and a young Elisabeth Shue in a small role.

From the television interview I gathered the play was about a college-sponsored student trip to England. However as it turned out it was not at all what I had thought it would be.

I had expected a story about college students and their reactions to British culture and their interaction with their professors in a different setting. My cousin and her husband, a college art professor, have been escorting student excursions throughout the world for years, and my friend Ann did the same when she taught art at Beaver College (she also once escorted a trip of upper class New Jersey suburbanites to Italy as Director of the now-named Visual Art Center of NJ), and both have many interesting and humorous stories to tell.

But there was barely a student in sight. Instead it dealt with the professors, members of the English department of an un-named New England college led by new Department Chairman Cavanaugh, on an apparent annual pilgrimage to worship at the temples of their “gods” of English literature and theatre that is disguised as a summer course.

The only college students in the play were the Chairman’s daughter, who because of her parentage is forced to spend more time than I am sure she would like in uncomfortable social settings with the professors, and, briefly, a truant girl who gets involved in a “she said, he said” sexual harassment issue in the second Act.

Included among the instructors on the trip is an arse-kissing professor (played by Nathan Lane in the 1990 production), accompanied by his wife, who have paid their own way in the hopes their participation will increase his chances of extending his teaching contract for one more year, knowing full well that he is not on “tenure track”.

To be honest this play is nothing to write home about. In the beginning it was almost difficult to watch. For the most part the professors are typical pompous arseholes who enjoy the sound of their own voice, although you do feel some sympathy for the arse-kisser whose only failing is that he did not graduate from a prestigious enough university. The show, almost twenty years old, did not appear dated – I am sure that college professors of this ilk have not changed much over the years – but was an odd choice to revive.

It has its share of laughs, mostly resulting from interaction with the more secondary characters – the bigoted former department Chairman (excellently played by Broadway veteran John Cunningham), apparently a former professor and mentor of the current tenured profs from whom they still seek advice, who has retired with his wife to England, a bubbly former female student of the current Chairman who has also relocated to the UK and now purchases the theatre tickets for the trip (just as I do when in London it appears that the group attends 2 plays a day), and an “ugly” American tourist who the Chairman encounters during intermission at a Shakespeare play in Stratford-on-Avon.

The professors are certainly cheap. At the end of dinners in a Covent Garden restaurant that begin and end the play they attempt to split the bill literally based on what each had ordered, down to counting how many glasses of wine each had – the arse-kisser’s wife pointing out that the retired Chairman had more than the one bottle of wine he has claimed as the play ends.

As usual I purchased my ticket through tdf for $27.00. My seats were in the third row, again on the extreme aisle, but then no seat in this theatre is bad (I had only been here once before to see a revival of THAT CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON). At $27.00 for the ticket it was an afternoon’s diversion, not distasteful but also not memorable.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...


Your review sounds right on and, although I recall having seen it in 1990, I have practically no memory of the play, not even of Nathan Lane! However, I do recall that it was a boring evening and we probably dashed out to dinner as soon as we could.