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Man of the Hour
|Origins of Sin
“There are very few rich men in jail…even today”
"Boss" Richard Horigan
The Man of the Hour, 1906
In our post-Lapsarian world, is it just naïve to fight corruption? We all know how business gets done, how many winners play by the rules, and never mind where nice guys finish. Headlines blast the men in the back room, but they don’t lock its door.
But corruption is not just a matter of political or business sleight of hand: corruption is personal. It degrades not only the System but the people who operate within it—their faith in one another, and their own spirits. Not to fight is to betray ourselves.
Spotlighting the connection of personal and public life is part of the genius of George H. Broadhurst’s lively and quick-witted The Man of the Hour. The play is about a fundamental conflict between upholding the public trust and scheming to serve oneself, while hanging in the balance are a proud family’s legacy and a golden couple’s love story.
At election time, a great American city’s most powerful political boss and its leading financier need to ensure the new Mayor will do their bidding, specifically by supporting a railway bill that will grant them control of the city’s infrastructure. The man they choose is a polo-playing scion of one of the city’s most respected and wealthy families: well-heeled, charismatic, and certain to step to their tune.
But they don’t count on his having a spine. Challenged by the woman he loves—the financier’s niece, in fact (and of course!)—to use his privileges to make something of himself, he accepts their proposal. He runs an inspiring race, wins the office, and then proceeds to do his duty by the people that elected him. But that means defying the string-pullers who think they are the ones owed his fealty.
The battle that begins draws in everyone he holds dear, including his family, his late father’s reputation, his love, her family, and colorful characters of high and low status who look like cogs in the machine, but prove to be far more influential than anyone expects.
And yet, in the end…is upholding a principle worth risking everything you know and love?
Devils in the Details
Broadhurst’s reputation was founded on his playful and absurd comedies. (Metropolitan presented an adaptation of his What Happened to Jones in 1999.) But he turned snappy dialogue and tightly sprung plotting to powerful effect in a more serious vein. The play combines the best qualities of the early 20th century stage with the strongest arguments of a growing political movement. The Man of the Hour is an appeal for social good made by colorful characters in exciting conflict with high stakes, a twisting plot, and ever-growing tension.
The costs exacted for ethical behavior are real, the temptations to sin warm-blooded, and the arguments for breaking the rules are very persuasive. Surely the heroes and villains are ultimately clearly defined, but they are also richly drawn. In a binary choice between right and wrong, its characters are all caught between poles. None of them is what he (or she) first seems, and all of them are mixtures of opposed qualities and motivations. Supporting characters offer some of the most interesting variations on the themes, and notably, the play makes a strong affirmation of a woman’s place in public life.
In the age of the railway baron and the political boss grew the seeds of the Progressive movement, and the early 20th century stage is alive with plays that grab a hold of momentous social issues with melodramatic theatrical flare to create exciting and stirring theater. Metropolitan fans will remember our 2001 production of The Woman, 2012’s The Boss, and last year’s Within the Law. Possessed by the same spirit, The Man of the Hour was the unrivaled hit of the 1906-07 season, running a record 479 performances. Among its stars were Lillian Kemble (of the famous theatrical Kemble Family) and a young but coming Douglas Fairbanks.
The play was a direct address to Tammany Hall’s dominance of New York City life, which lasted into the 30’s, and the character of its biggest and baddest “Boss” is directly modeled on famous Tammany leader Richard Croker, who is credited with having engineered the election of Robert A. Van Wyck as the first mayor of the five-borough greater New York in 1897.*
He is a snake, and he gets the best lines by far. Here is his take on U.S. Capitalism:
Every man is a grafter. A lawyer will take a fee for showing his client how he can break the law and evade the punishment—graft! Churches and Colleges accept money they know has been obtained by fraud and oppression—graft!—Newspapers and magazines publish advertisements they know to be fakes and worse—graft! A railroad president accepts stock in a firm which ships over his line—graft! Senators become millionaires on a salary of seventy-five hundred dollars a year—graft! And so it goes, high and low, rich and poor—they all graft, in fact the man who doesn't graft hasn't the chance or else he's a fool.
Meanwhile, the rival boss would seem to be modeled on Charles Francis “Silent Charlie” Murphy, who succeeded Croker as Tammany’s leader, and was beginning a transformation of the organization.
A Big Picture
Still, The Man of the Hour is not confined to New York City concerns; it directly endorses such rising politicians as Wisconsin’s new U.S. Senator Robert “Fighting Bob” La Follett, and Missouri’s new Governor Joseph W. “Holy Joe” Folk. Surely Broadhurst’s choice to set the play in “Any large city in America” at “The Present” shows his interest in national themes…as well as touring productions!
Another source of the play’s power is its depiction of political and personal awakening. Integrity and corruption are less innate qualities than personal paths, and both must be learned and chosen. Around its central couple, the play tells of many characters’ discovery of their true selves—sometimes craven, but more often shining. If theater is to have meaning in the real world, then inspiring us to know our better selves is an admirable use of make believe.
Seeking that inspiration, Metropolitan is delighted to revive The Man of the Hour as the third play in our Season of Progress.
- Alex Roe
* A reader of the script is amused to find the author’s frequent parenthetical elucidations of Horigan’s lines as quoting Croker’s policies.
Metropolitan welcomes director Leonard Peters with The Man of the Hour, whose work has appeared at Playwrights Horizons, The WPA Theatre, La Mama etc., Circle Repertory Company, St. Clement's Playhouse, The Joyce Theater, St. Mark's-in-the-Bowery, Lincoln Center, and the renowned Metropolitan Room. In Washington, D.C. he directed at the Kennedy Center and The Folger Theatre and at many of the major League of Regional Theaters, nationwide.
Coming to America from England when he was twenty, George H. Broadhurst began his theatrical career by running theaters in Milwaukee, Baltimore, and San Francisco. The first play he wrote, The Speculator (1896), was a quick failure. Some comedies that followed had better luck, notably The Wrong Mr. Wright (1897), What Happened to Jones (1897 - adapted by David Zarko for Metropolitan in 1999), and Why Smith Left Home (1899), although, ironically, all were more successful in London than in New York.
For the next several seasons Broadhurst tried his hand at dramas, comedies, and musical comedy librettos before writing the hits The Man of the Hour (1906) and Bought and Paid For (1911). Other works of note include Today (1913), in which a husband discovers his wife in a brothel, and The Law of the Land (1914), about a justifiable homicide.
In 1919 the Shuberts named their newest theater after him, and he managed it in conjunction with them. Broadhurst produced many of his own plays as well as those of other writers. He was once characterized as a playwright "who had a knack for the sort of melodrama that poses as a serious study of morals."