(Chris Jones’s article appeared in the Chicago Tribune, 10/7.)
In 1933, the playwright Maxwell Anderson wrote a very lively drama all about Congress and pork, a drama that would go on to win the Pulitzer Prize and that now opens the season for Remy Bumppo Theatre Company.
In Anderson's juicy cutlet of a plot, an idealistic young Republican congressman finds himself with a seat on the House Appropriations Committee and is shocked, shocked to discover that the bills that emerge from its greasy meetings are laden with special ingredients used in one of two ways: to curry favor with constituents and buy votes, or to feather the beds of the committee
"He is prophet enough to shout that the day of complacent piracy in politics is drawing to a close," wrote the critic Brooks Atkinson, reviewing the 1933 Theatre Guild production in New York.
Atkinson was a great critic. That particular observation turned out to be flat-out wrong.
Political pork has remained on the griddle, its fattiness only growing with the years. And whenever any theater has produced this particular play over the past half century or so (it has been popular around election time), two things have usually happened. The people promoting the play have trumpeted how amazingly relevant the play still seems, and they've been followed by a critic who has shown up and said pretty much the same thing.
Anderson was indeed prophetic, but not for the reasons Atkinson gave.