The answer to hate speech is more speech.
— Charles Nichols’ reasoning for inviting a Nazi
supporter on campus to speak
The first time I saw actor Bryan Cranston was in the 1980s daytime drama “Loving” (1983–1985) as sexy leading man Douglas Donovan. He clearly received more than his lion’s share of attention from the women, in the fictional town of Corinth, Pennsylvania. After he left Corinth, Cranston received more than a handful of episodic television roles, such as “Murder She Wrote,” “Walker Texas Ranger” and more. He found success in “Malcom in the Middle” (2000-2006) as doting father Hal. Then, he scored another hit as the profitable selling meth dealer Walter White in “Breaking Bad” (2008-2013). As if that wasn’t enough, he managed to snag a Tony for Best Actor for the play “All the Way,” playing former President Lyndon B. Johnson in 2014. Four years later, he received the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor for playing news anchor Howard Beale in the drama “Network” who loses it on a news broadcast. He’s one award shy of being let into the EGOT club. At the Geffen stage, he brings forth a new but conflicted character that screams for another award.
Written by playwright Paul Grellong (“Manuscript,” “Radio Free Emerson”), “Power of Sail,” tells the story of tenured professor Charles Nichols (Bryan Cranston) a Harvard history professor who invites, Carver, a white nationalist, who is only talked about and never seen, to speak at his symposium, No one is happy about this and many try to talk Charles on cancelling the event. He gets advice from many people in his circle. He tries in vain to convince others that the flowing of free speech, no matter how hateful, will provide a better understanding. Yeah, no one is buying this nonsense.
His colleague Amy (Amy Brenneman scores high as a concerned friend), shares her reservations on what Charles is doing. Students want Carver gone but Charles isn’t having it. Amy is exacerbated with her friend. She knows he will do what he wants no matter the outside barriers. He fears the pressure from the president of the school, FBI agents and a mob of upset students sounding like a mad pack of wolves at the thought of this Nazi supporter on their beloved campus. It gets worse when Charles plans a dinner for Carver and wishes the students to come in. Only one is eager to do but, that’s only to score points with Charles. Prepare for a battle and war.
Director Weyni Mengesha does an excellent job in unfolding the story with a steady and subtle hand. She clearly demonstrates why Charles would be wrong, but, interjects with the naysers concerns. A powerful show that will lead to in-depth conversation after the show.
Power of Sail, plays at the Geffen Playhouse, located at 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; Mon-Fri at 8 p.m., Saturday at 3 and 8 p.m., Sundays 2 & 7 pm; until March 27. Running time: one hour and 40 minutes with no intermission. Log on to www.geffenplayhouse.org for ticket reservations.