WHAT DO WE DO ABOUT WALTER? -Review by Jen Bush
When people think about academia, they might envision stuffed shirts sitting around engaged in profound discussions about things that are way over their heads. Not in WHAT DO WE DO ABOUT WALTER? With themes of infidelity, ageism, jealousy and conflict, these stuffed shirts had a lot of interesting things going on. Secret meetings and illicit encounters are just some of what this play has on the syllabus!
The setting is Bridge College Annette is the uptight head of the English department. Walter Knight who has been there for 17 years and was just awarded the distinction of being a Writer in Residence is a thorn in Annette’s side. He happens to be a very well-liked and good teacher. She feels he is too old, completely inflexible and sorely lacking in credentials such as a master’s degree. In academia the saying constantly tossed around is publish or perish. Though Walter is the most published professor in the department, Annette finds no intellectual value in his work since it’s commercial and not academic. She tries to enlist the support of a fellow professor who she is having an affair with and the rest of her department to push Walter out of the college. We see Walter’s inflexibility in a staff meeting where a list of books to use for the next semester is discussed. Walter still values the consummate classic works of literature especially Shakespeare. The college would like to modernize the curriculum with more inclusive, politically correct works with a concentration on female authors. Walter has become Annette’s obsession and she will stop at nothing till he has crossed the bridge for good from Bridge College.
WHAT DO WE DO ABOUT WALTER? was written by Irving A. Greenfield. Mr. Greenfield was a prolific author of over 300 books and several plays. He had a wonderful professional and personal relationship with the American Theatre of Actors and the people employed there. This play was supposed to run in 2020. We all know what happened in 2020 and tragically, Mr. Greenfield passed away before he could see this, his latest work on the stage. Having seen several of his plays produced at The American Theatre of Actors with much of the same talent, I can say this was a brilliant artistic partnership.
WHAT DO WE DO ABOUT WALTER? was funny, dramatic and edgy. It was thought provoking and touched on some hot button topics such as gender, feminism, inclusivity, ageism and political correctness. It’s hard to imagine Shakespeare ever becoming obsolete and irrelevant as was suggested in this play. Whether they went to college or not, adult audiences can find something to enjoy in this well written play.
The powerful cast expertly directed by Laurie Rae Waugh were all ideally matched to their characters. Ken Coughlin gets an A+ for his fabulous portrayal of the mercurial Walter. His stage experience shows. He made an excellent military man in Banned in Bisbee and a completely credible college professor in this. He looked the part and he gave his all in the part. Amanda Cannon goes right to the head of the class with her villainous portrayal of Annette. She’s so good at being so bad, trust me, you’ll root for Walter! From The Merry Wives of Windsor to this, Michael Bordwell provided another acting slam dunk. He rolled a lot of traits into his portrayal of one of the department professors, Steven. He was slimy, savvy, likeable, not likeable and more. Overall, the character was out for himself but there was a tiny bit of heart directed at Walter. It was an excellent portrayal. This was the third time I witnessed a performance with Manny Rey and he is always solid. He was authoritative and funny in his portrayal of the college provost. The cast was rounded out by Vicky Gitre, Ben Guralnik, Alan Charney and Rooki Tiwari who were all fantastic. Every character brought to life was genuine and interesting.
So, what did they do about Walter? A better question might be, what did Walter do about them? WHAT DO WE DO ABOUT WALTER gets a 4.0 G.P.A. which stands for great performance all around!