A Case of Libel--An Intense Courtroom Drama at NTC

Ron Dailey, Alma Deleon and Michael Walraven in A Case of Libel

This lively courtroom battle inspired by the real trial between journalists Quentin Reynolds and Westbrook Pegler is now brought to the stage by the Novato Theater Company as it presents its winter production of A Case of Libel.

Written by Henry Denker, this 1963 Broadway play tells the story of Dennis Corcoran (Bill McClave), a liberal news correspondent who returns from World War II after performing heroically only to be characterized as a drunkard and Communist sympathizer by an ultra-conservative columnist, Boyd Bendix (MIchael Walraven).  

With the help of a brilliant attorney Robert Sloan (Paul Abbot), based on the actual case's Louis Nizer in My Life In Court, Corcoran brings a libel suit against Boyd Bendix.  The climax in which Bendix is tripped up by his own contradictory writings was in reality based on a small portion of the Reynolds/Pegler litigation but it provides a satisfactory "sauce for the goose" third Act.  

The show gets off to a slow start in Act One which takes place in the mid 1950's in New York City in the office of attorney, Robert Sloan.  Director Ron Nash builds from a quiet start when Dennis Corcoran and his wife Anita (Renee Mandel-Sher) come into Sloan's office while he is going over his vacation itinerary.  When Sloan agrees to take Corcoran's case, Nash builds through various twists and turns, as Sloan prepares Dennis for trial.

Then the play really takes off in Acts Two and Three which take place in the courtroom. Here Nash skillfully directs his cast to display the mounting emotions of Corcoran's day-after-day in court.  

The principal players are all outstanding, particularly Paul Abbot as Robert Sloan with his beautiful voice and fine stage presence.  Bill McClave sympathetically portrays Dennis Corcoran.  In contrast, Michael Walraven effectively personifies his adversary, Boyd Bendix with overbearing arrogance.  Kris Neely gives a strong portrayal as Bendix's lawyer Paul Cleary.  Ron Dailey skillfully brings three characters to life--a Scottish military man (with a perfect Scottish dialect), one of the firm's partners and a drunken editor.  Renee Mandel-Sher as Anita Corcoran gives a fine performance as Dennis' supportive wife.  Even though the roles of the Judge (Alma Deleon) and the Court Reporter (Elizabeth Rohtla) have few lines, they contribute a great deal to the courtroom drama by their facial expressions which reflect close attention to detail.  

Director Ron Nash helped both to set the mood from time to time by having some of the actors read aloud headlines from the mid-1950's.  He also designed the set and the action so the audience finds itself in the jury box.  Finally, Nash deserves high praise in directing his very large ensemble who bring this intense courtroom drama to life onstage.

A Case of Libel runs through March 11 at 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, and Sunday at 3 p.m. Performances are held at the Novato Theater Company Playhouse, 484 Ignacio Blvd., Novato.  For tickets, call 415-883-4498 or go online at www.novatotheatercompany.org.

Coming up next at Novato Theater Company is A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum by Stephen Sondheim, Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart, April 6-29, 2012.

Flora Lynn Isaacson