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.
Tim Treanor says
But if they had been working out they would be dressing in a gym locker room, not in the men’s room on the same floor as their office. Remember, when Matty comes in (sans workout clothes) to brush his teeth, he says “welcome to the floor” and says that he was the only previous occupant of the floor. Since they haven’t told him what floor they’re on, we can only assume that they are already on the floor in which both companies have their office.
The text says that Willie and Jerry (sorry about the name) are “consultants”. But what does that mean? They say — after a lot of equivocation — that they do education and training. But their offer to promote Matty’s Foundation has little to do with education and training. The only conclusion I can draw is that they are either scam artists or that they have no idea what they’re doing — and if I can detect that, a person who has spent his life in bottom-dwelling politics like Matty certainly can.
I realize that Willie tells Jerry that he intends to take Matty’s money and run with it. But that doesn’t explain what happens to Matty’s plan, only what Willie *intends* to have happen. It seems to me that the real drama, and conflict, is Matty’s struggle to realize his dream and the effort of the young scammer to outscam the old scammer. I wanted to see that conflict and was disappointed that I didn’t.
The same is true for the lobbyist’s bill. It is clear that she is not prepared to accept the “compromise” — which she clearly attributes to Matty’s incompetence and Schmidt’s venality. She paid good money for her language, not some compromise language. So I wanted to see what vengeance she was going to bring down, particularly on Matty, and how Matty would cope with it and eventually (perhaps) overcome it.
This is what I mean by “loose ends.” You raise threats — the treacherous contractor, the enraged client — but you don’t show how the threats are resolved. You imply in your response that the contractor wins and the client loses. That’s certainly one possible result, but it’s not foreordained.
In short, I think you have the beginning of a play which might be exciting, even powerful. But what we see at the Fringe isn’t that play. It’s maybe the first couple scenes of that play. I hope you do more work on it and that I get a chance to see the fully-developed.
John McGrath says
Hi Tim, I just caught your review of my play, The Matty Matthews Foundation. Were we really at the same play? Why are Adam and Willy getting dressed in the men’s room you ask? First, there’s no Adam in the play, or on the website, or in the program distributed at the performance. The name is Jerry, not Adam. As far as why Adam, AKA Jerry, and Willy are getting dressed in the men’s room – how about a light work-out before the business day starts; did you catch their gym bags and work-out clothes? What services are Adam, AKA Jerry, and Willy actually providing you ask?. “We’re consultants” they tell Matty, and go on to elaborate on their various services. What happens to Matty’s foundation plans you ask? “We can help Matty, just not right away. This money gos straight to our bank and we sign a lease” says Willy. It’s a not a big leap to conclude that the guys not only took Matty’s money, they snatched his dream. What happened to the lobbyist’s bill you ask? “I got an e-mail that says the bill they just past left out the word ALL.” The lobbyist got most of what she wanted, but not all. Surprise, there was a compromise.
Look, there are probably some loose ends in the play, even if they are not the ones you identified. You can rehearse a play a hundred times and when it opens before a live audience you see things you never saw in rehearsal, you tighten the dialogue and improve the story. So I thank you for your insights which overall are helpful and in the spirit of the Fringe. In terms of Mies van der Rohe, my come-to-Jesus meetings, and speaking truth to power, I’m still tryig to connect those loose ends.