Classic postwar comedy...

–Peter Marks, The Washington Post

mister roberts

Read excerpts of reviews from...
The Washington Post
Arch Campbell–WRC-TV NBC
Bob Davis–WGMS Radio
The Baltimore Sun
The Washington Times

Frank Deal, Michael Dempsey, Hunter Foster, Stephen Kunken
By Thomas Heggen and Joshua Logan
Directed by Robert Longbottom
Now through April 3
Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater

"What's more pleasant than an unexpected bump up to first class? Before the curtain rises on the Kennedy Center's revival of "Mister Roberts," you await what figures to be a fairly uneventful ride in the equivalent of coach. How gratifying to find the evening comfier than you ever thought possible.

"Director Robert Longbottom's imagining of this classic postwar comedy, set aboard a Navy cargo ship on which the sailors are more likely to die from boredom than from enemy fire, casts the play as an appealing period portrait of American pluck.

"[Robert] Longbottom puts the play's 21 gobs and monsters through their paces in some persuasively moving ways...The director takes the comedy's military-issue evocations of innocence, idealism, loneliness and cynicism and turns them into charms. A spin on this vessel, as a result, is remarkably smooth sailing.... It's the very American-century idea of holding on to optimism in an imperfect world -- especially given the morally clouded world we now inhabit -- that makes "Mister Roberts" worth another look.

Dempsey"And Longbottom's production...is fun to look at. The set designer, Andrew Jackness, evokes the deck of the cargo ship in marvelous, almost documentary detail. Contributing to the verisimilitude, pieces of the ship have been borrowed from vessels in Norfolk and Baltimore. The background sky is lighted wonderfully by Ken Billington so that at times you gaze upon a pink Pacific dawn or a purple Polynesian dusk.

"The set's the stuff of little kids' fantasies. A working winch helps move loads of goods from the cargo hold below deck. On a turret that rises impressively from the stage, a sailor is stationed at one of those powerful high beams that illuminate the nighttime sea.

"Longbottom's secret weapon is the large cast...and he dresses the Eisenhower set smartly with the sailors, many of whom manage to create sharply drawn characters with only a few lines of dialogue. At one point, in Fostershadow, the crew members, waiting to learn whether their hopes for a day's liberty will be realized, stand with backs to the audience, gazing into port. The image warmly conveys the longing the men harbor for freedom from service and ennui and care.

[Michael] Dempsey, with his athletic, clean-cut good looks, has an all-American glow that works for the character. He's like the ship's homecoming king, this chap with charisma to whom the crew was lucky to have been assigned. [Frank] Deal does a fine job of avoiding cartoon villainy...and [Stephen] Kunken brings out the decency in a cynical medicine man. As the incorrigible Pulver, [Hunter] Foster proves himself a top-flight comic actor. There's an effortlessness to his puckish portrayal, especially in the scene in which he emerges from a laundry room covered in suds. With an actor of lesser skill, it might truly have been a mess.

In the end... and in spite of yourself, you may get a little lump in your throat. Is it okay in this time of gruesome realities about war for a military play to show a soft side? Of course. Permission granted."

"One of the year's most charming nights. Kudos to a great cast and a great show. Three and one half stars...and I salute "Mister Roberts." It was a delight to see."

"A great cast...SEE IT!"


"Director Robert Longbottom's production of Thomas Heggen and Joshua Logan's 1948 play manages to stir up more than a few patriotic feelings.Deal

As Roberts, ... [Michael] Dempsey's portrayal allows us to see what Roberts himself initially overlooks — the decency and fairness that have led his men to admire and depend on him. Hunter Foster brings just the right puckish quality to Roberts' mischievous bunkmate, work-shirking Ensign Pulver. Stephen Kunken also does a ship-shape job as the crew's wise doctor, and Frank Deal is an appropriately sweaty, small-minded bully as the tyrannical captain.

"The production boasts a magnificent, monumental set by Andrew Jackness, beautifully lighted by Ken Billington. Partly constructed from material salvaged from decommissioned Navy ships in Baltimore and Norfolk, the set features a working crane that, at one point, hoists a net filled with drunken sailors onto the deck after a long-awaited liberty.

"It's no easy task to stage a play about what Roberts describes in a letter as sailing "from Tedium to Apathy and back again — with an occasional side trip to Monotony." ... But by the final curtain, Mister Roberts has painted an affecting picture of the loyalties that can develop among servicemen united by a common cause... Seen now, when the country is experiencing divided loyalties, it's a lesson tinged with an irony the play's authors probably never imagined."

"Although Joshua Logan and Thomas Heggen's drama got its start on Broadway, the story is best known in its 1955 cinematic incarnation...As is often the case, the play has more bite than the film, and it's a pleasure to see it in its original version after many years of neglect.

Mister Roberts ... stands as a surprisingly heartwarming monument to the peak achievement of the "greatest generation," the men and women who fought the great war against fascism with unquestioning patriotism, self-effacing courage and little sense of moral ambiguity.

"Mister Roberts ... pits a nasty captain (nicely played with a swell lower-class Boston accent by Frank Deal) against his college-boy first officer, Lt. Roberts (Michael Dempsey), and a sullen crew that hasn't been off the ship in 18 months.

"Kudos to the swell Liberty Ship that serves as the backdrop to the play. Complete with a swiveling bridge and a working winch against a backdrop of surprisingly Pacific-looking clouds, the set conjures up a realistic vision of Navy life in wartime.

"This production has a lot of things going for it... the script's unabashed patriotism and comic sentimentalism are genuine.

"This production of Mister Roberts is ... a pleasant, nostalgic evening of theater that does a credible job of resurrecting a long-gone era when most of America believed in the essential rightness of our democratic ideals."