THE SAN JOSE STAGE TAKES ON 'FAKE NEWS' AS WE MEET THE REAL JOHN DOE
LOCAL DIRECTOR WRITER KENNETH KELLEHER BRINGS AN EXCELLENT NEW POWERFUL VERSION OF THE CLASSIC FRANK CAPA
TALE OF THE AMERICAN ANTI HERO 'JOHN DOE'
Review by Vince Mediaa
The San Jose Stage continues their impressive 40th season with the World Premiere adaptation of Frank Capra's classic MEET JOHN DOE by Robert Riskin. The origin of “Fake News” is relevant in Capra’s iconic story now on stage through December 18th. Adapted and directed by Kenneth Kelleher for the San Jose Company, he has dynamically created this story that takes a homeless person and makes him a national hero and a puppet for a government take over. Kelleher has crafted this play based on the classic 1941 film by Frank Capra.
SJS Artistic Director Randall King says “When we set out forty years ago we strove to deliver. The themes in MEET JOHN DOE hold up a mirror to society. Giving a vivid and stark reflection. We are so excited to present the world premiere adaptation by Kenneth Kelleher an associate artist at The Stage.” The cast includes some of the best in the Bay Area, and a moving set of images that bring back the original film and story.
Capra creates an American reporter's fake news story to help sell papers. Reporter Ann Mitchell, played by the solid Jennifer Le Blanc who turns a tramp into a national hero and makes him a pawn for big business. The powerful Aldo Billingslea plays Long John Willoughby AKA John Doe, and presents a terrific performance as a man suffering from the side effects of the American Dream.
Kelleher’s adaptation and his fast pace direction weaves the narrative elements in the story by actual projected clips from the original film. I did watch the film before opening night and noted that Kelleher kept most of the original dialogue. Moving the ten member company through many different characters and locations was seamless. Movement coordinator Keith Pinto brings a chaotic ballet to the San Jose stage - it is a highlight of this play.
The depression story concerns Ann Mitchell, a reporter about to be laid off and desperately trying to save her job. So she invents the story about, John Doe, who promises to commit suicide on Christmas Eve to protest the condition of "the common man." When the feature starts selling papers, she and the newspaper's corrupt publisher D.B. Norton, played by the superb Michael Storm, has to come up with a real Doe. They find him in the person of James Willoughby, a rundown and homeless former baseball player.
The cast is excellent; Norman Gee is impressive as the tough news editor Connell, but later he shows a vulnerable side with Doe as they prepare for a radio show. Local favorite Keith Pinto wears many hats for his performance but as soda jerk Bert he will bring a tear to your eye with his John Doe Club pitch. John Doe’s shadow or moral sidekick "The Colonel" is played by the standout Julian López-Morillas. His humor is filled with critical cynicism about Doe’s ride with the devil. The ensemble fills out the many other characters including Garland Thompson, Jacqueline Neeley, Nick Mandracchia, Donna Federico and the marvelous Allison Rich.
The fictional Doe is a "plain-speaking" man preaches charity and a portrait of America as a land where neighbors take care of neighbors. He becomes a national figure and "John Doe Clubs" spread across the country. That's a tempting opportunity for the wealthy publisher and his fat cat friends, who decide to use Doe to take over the government. Capra was unable to come up with an ending for his film that he found satisfying. Kelleher, devised a take that enhances its impact as John confronts his death. The craft team created a set mostly on wheels and based on projections. But the heart of this production is stage manager Taz Stahlnecker who kept the 200 minute production and ten cast members on cue.
Kelleher was able to bring that fast talking style of pace to this production that is familiar with Capra’s style. You almost get that “It’s a Wonderful Life’ and “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” feel. John Doe is a part of using the American Dream as a method of threat to expose the real dream. MEET JOHN DOE may no longer be Capra-Corn; but a story the old master would certainly recognize. This play is powerful, important and brings the 2022 Holiday Season a thought of cautious cheer and love.
SAN JOSE STAGE COMPANY Presents
WORLD PREMIERE ADAPTATION
FRANK CAPRA’S CLASSIC
MEET JOHN DOE
By Robert Riskin
Adapted & Directed
by Kenneth Kellehe
Must Close Dec. 18
San Jose Stage, 490 S. 1st St., San Jose
Running time: 100 minutes, no intermission
Tickets: $34-$74; www.thestage.org
PHOTOS BY DAVE LEPORI
Creative team; Robert Pickering (Scenic Designer), Madeline Berger (Costume Designer), Maurice Vercoutere (Lighting Designer), Marisa Whitmore (Sound Designer), Garland Thompson Jr. (Projections Consultant), and Jenn Trampenau (Props Coordinator).