There is a clever idea behind The Matty Matthews Foundation. But as Mies van der Rohe said, God is in the details, and playwright John McGrath and his cast will need a couple of come-to-Jesus meetings before this play is all that it can or should be.
Matty Matthews (Bill Hurlbut) is a bottom-dwelling political fixer and bagman whose time has come and gone. He still maintains an office, however, and when Jerry (Adrian Vigil) and Willy (Malcolm Stokes) move into the building, he enlists them in accomplishing his great dream: to set up a school for young Americans, so that they can learn how legislation is really enacted in modern-day America.
This sounds like cynicism: that Matty, having finally disgusted even himself with corruption in American politics, would establish a foundation which would lay that corruption bare for American youth. But that’s not what this is at all. Matty loves corruption, and thinks that the grease that moves political wheels is as American as apple pie.
When approached by another bagman (Jack Wassell), in even more desperate straits than he is, Matty agrees to set a lobbyist (Carol Calhoun) up with an avaricious Congressman, and thereafter arranges a straight-up bribe. His success in this felonious activity – he’s still got it! – is what inspires Matty to launch his foundation.
The Matty Matthews Foundation
by John McGrath
645 New York Ave NW
Washington, DC 20001
Details and tickets
At crucial moments, McGrath sacrifices the specific to the general. Matty asks Willie what he needs to sign to set up his foundation. Willie answers “paperwork” but Matty never presses for more.
McGrath sets up a boatload of side-plots for a 45-minute show. In addition to Matty’s plan for a foundation, we deal with a potentially partnership-ending dispute between Willie and Adam, the failure of Wassell’s character to sustain his career, and a dispute between Matty and the lobbyist about the text of her bill – none of which get resolved before the final bow.
I liked Hurlbut in the title role, but the rest of the actors, in my humble opinion, have some work to do. Virgil, Stokes and Wassell came in late on their lines in the production I saw; Wassell and Calhoun were overemphatic, and I had great difficulty understanding Stokes, even though I sat no more than thirty feet away from him for most of the production.
The Matty Matthews Foundation seeks to speak truth to power, and is thus admirable. But before it does, it needs to clear its own throat, and straighten up the narrative and the performances.