Yesterday, I went to the Ahmanson Theatre to see a British play, The Last Confession. It stars David Suchet, who originated the role, and was the main reason I wanted to go. (He's recognizable to most people as having played Hercule Poirot on Masterpiece Mystery for the last 25 years.) But I also liked the idea of the play, based on the death of Pope John Paul I in 1978 after only 33 days as pope.
I thought the play was terrific, sort of a cross between Amadeus and 12 Angry Men. Not as great as either, but still extremely good. Very thoughtful, looking at faith, power, politics, morality, and a mystery investigating a death that could be murder. It's written by playwright Roger Crane, who has what is now one of my favorite playwright bios I've seen in a program. It reads in its entirety: "Roger is a lawyer. This is his first play. He is extremely plesed that this production is embarking on such a grand tour."
All the acting was great, not a false not anywhere, and Suchet was wonderful. He doesn't have all that much to do in the first act, which made it surprising at first that he was the star, but he takes over after intermission. (The first act deals with the election of the new pope and the politics swirling in the Vatican. The second act deals mostly with the death and investigation.)
Terrific as Suchet was and deserving of all the praise (he created the role at the Chichester Festival and took the show to London's West End), it was Richard O'Callaghan as Cardinal Luciani who becomes Pope John Paul who was the revelation. Originally, it had been announced that Brian Bedford would be in the show. He's an actor I've seen on the stage and like very much, so I was disappointed when he didn't come with the show. But O'Callaghan was tremendous, just a joy to watch in every scene, bringing great humanity to the role. That wasn't the revelation -- it's that, reading about him in the program at intermission, it noted that...he originated the role! So, much as I wanted to see Brian Bedford, I'm glad we got Richard O'Callaghan.
(That's him on the left, with David Suchet.)
Photo credit: Anne Cusack, Los Angeles Times
The show has a very odd tour. As I mentioned, it began life at Chichester and at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in the West End and did very well. For it's tour, it went to Canada for a few cities, then here to Los Angeles -- and that's it's only stop in the United States! It then goes directly to Australia for several stops. The performance I saw was sold out, in a pretty good-sized venue, so I wouldn't be terribly surprised to see it return to the United States and try to get a theater in New York.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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