Key Largo

Performance Review, 

Geffen Playhouse, Los Angeles



The Story:


     Haunted by his past, Major Frank McCloud arrives at Hotel Largo with only his duffel bag and no visible means of support. He has come to pay respects to Nora,  the widow of a soldier under his command he deserted during the battle of Cassino, who is living with her blind father-in-law, the owner of the hotel. Little does the Major know, the hotel has been taken over by gangsters led by notorious deportee Johnny Rocco, there to cut a drug deal with his connection driving down from Miami. The inevitable confrontation between the self-declared coward Major McCloud and the ruthless Johnny Rocco reaches its ultimate climax as a hurricane all but destroys the hotel in the meantime.

The Play:


In two acts, from the Maxwell Anderson performance on Broadway in 1939, the plot follows roughly the stage presentation but the characters and era follow the film of the same name, Key Largo. In the original play, the gangsters are swindlers who run a crooked gambling concession and use the hotel as their headquarters. Major “King” McCloud arrives to pay his respects and the widow is actually the daughter of the hotel owner and sister to the deceased soldier. As in the revised motion picture script, the current play at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood, the Major is named Frank McCloud and the widow is a daughter-in-law. Most of the other characters follow the John Huston directed film while a number of lines are from the original play. There are plot variations with offstage events, such as escaped Seminoles, the Osceola brothers, who are suspected of killing their road gang foreman.

(Image: LA Times)

The Hurricane:


In fact, in the play, the swindling gamblers are the culprits but in either case, McCloud uses it as a means of self-sacrifice to atone for his cowardice on the battlefield. The gangster Johnny Rocco, of course, isn’t buying the heroics and eventually challenges the Major to a life-or-death choice, in which McCloud once again turns chicken in the face of death.
 Act One is completely overtaken by the approaching hurricane, and it ends with Johnny Rocco, in the darkened lobby of the hotel, firing shots wildly at the storm with wind blowing, doors flapping and windows crashing. Act Two surrounds the standoff between the Major and Rocco, who has kidnapped Nora as a hostage to make good his escape following the dope deal.  Others in the play have roles ranging from intermediate, such as the blind owner of the hotel, to Rocco’s girlfriend, to his gangster cohorts; to incidental, such as the sheriff in search of the Osceola brothers; and Ziggy, the dope dealer from Miami.

(Image: Geffen Playhouse)

The Stage:


Ornate and classic, the hotel lobby becomes the one and only set for both acts of the play.  With a high ceiling where large oval stained glass windows are pelted constantly with  rain, the lobby itself has a large sofa center stage and other chairs throughout. Downstage right is the bar, where Gaye Dawn, the gangster’s over-the-hill girlfriend drinks heavily and listens to a horse race when McCloud first appears. Right center is a set of stairs leading to the hotel rooms, where Rocco, wearing a red bathrobe, enters in Act One. Stage left are the only two doors into the hotel; the main doors elevated behind a rail and a small door downstage. Upstage center is the check-in counter, where the phone rings several times as Ziggy  reports his whereabouts in the storm. Large fans extend down from the high ceiling and lanterns substitute for lights when the storm knocks out the power at the end of Act One.

Worth Noting:

Some of the richest quotes survived the transition from the original play through the film to the current stage production at the Westwood playhouse.  Johnny Rocco challenges Frank McCloud in a standoff;

   ROCCO  That was your chance to shoot and you didn’t do it. In my game you learn

                   that there are just two kinds of men, those who are not afraid to die and those who 

                   are. A man who’s not afraid to die, he’s dangerous. The others you can handle.   

                   (Anderson, 71)

(Image: Geffen Playhouse)

Worth Noting:


Rocco’s assessment comes from his original counterpart Murillo, in Act One of the Anderson play. It appears later in the Geffen production. Yet another significant line, also spoken by Rocco, reflects the gangster’s rather low opinion of women (note the exact wording is based on Murillo);

    ROCCO  You will have, baby. You will have. It’s the same with women as with nations,

                    baby; the fellow with the most money and the most guns wins. Always. 

                    Because that’s what the nations want! And what the women want! (Anderson, 50)

In another scene, Gaye Dawn begs Rocco for a drink and he submits only if she sings for him, in the presence of all the others who are now on the stage. When she finishes and asks for a drink, Rocco says “No! It was the wrong song.”

Another interesting line, in Act Two,  that came nearly directly from the original script was by Sheriff Gash after accepting a $5000 bribe when he discovers “Robert Brown” is actually the notorious Johnny Rocco and Nora suggests he be honest;

    GASH    No, lady, I couldn’t. It’s been tried. You have to have a machine to stay in office,

                   and nothing runs a machine but money. Now I’ve never been off the Keys , but

                   I’ve heard it said there’s honest government elsewhere....There’s a John Chinaman

 runs the laundry down at Star Key. He says in China the same word that means to

    govern means to eat. They’ve worked it out in China. The government eats you,

                   but it protects you first, because if it didn’t you wouldn’t get fat enough to make

                   good eating. (Anderson, 105)

(Image: Entertainment Weekly)

The Cast:


The Cast: 

Johnny Rocco, deported mobster; playing the lead role is Andy Garcia.

Gaye Dawn, over-the-hill lounge singer, alcoholic; played by Joely Fisher.

Nora D’Alcala, widow of Victor; played by Rose McIver.

Frank McCloud, the “Major;” played by Danny Pino.

Mr. D’Alcala, the blind hotel owner; played by Tony Plana.

Sheriff Gash, takes a bribe; played by Richard Riehle.

Toots, gangster; played by Stephen Borrello.

Curly, gangster, played by Louis Mustillo.

Ziggy, the Miami connection; played by Bradley Snedeker'


Director, Doug Hughes

Writers (adapted from original), Jeffrey Hatcher and Andy Garcia

Music, Arturo Sandoval

Scenic Design, John Lee Beatty

Costumes, Linda Cho

Adapted from the original play written by Maxwell Anderson and from the film “Key Largo” (1946), Warner Bros.,  directed by John Huston. 

Works Cited

Key Largo,

Key Largo (1946),

Key Largo, Maxwell Anderson, Anderson House, Washington, D.C., 1939

The play has run to a nearly sold out house nightly.

Submitted to ENG298.1002

University of Nevada, Reno

Dr. A. Keniston

Fall 2019




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