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A CurtainUp Review
The Body Politic
By Elyse Sommer
The dialogue is awash in every issue on which the Reds and the Blues are firmly divided. The device of the vive-la-difference factor to intensify the sexual attraction between two people has been done and done and done. The Turner network still mines this opposites attract dynamic with replays of films starring sizzling duos of the black and white movie days. In a slightly more up-to-date vintage flick, Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks were on opposite sides of the super sized-small book store fence in You've Got Mail. Thus The Body Politic's forever liberal democrat Trish and the republican Spencer follow in well-trod, audience winning footsteps —- not to mention a well-known pair of real life couple, republican Mary Matalen and democrat James Carville who managed to make their liberal-conservative marriage last and even write a best seller called All's Fair: Love, War, and Politics.
Abrons and Perry have certainly done their homework in hauling out all the topics that would be likely to come up during any current campaign. They've even given Trish and Spencer's story a counterpart through their campaign organization's jaded operatives (Leslie Hendrix and Michael Puzzo) who were once more than political adversaries. Credit is also due to director Perry and her design team for making a limited budget and a miniscule playing area go a long way towards taking us through the play's more than two dozen brief scenes in various locations (Set designer Timothy B. Mackabee has even managed a few rather tacky trees for a Central Park scene).
To emphasize the timeliness of this fictional campaign, mobile phones are whipped out here and there. For the ultimate in timely product placement, Spencer repeatedly uses an Apple I-Pad (I wonder if the actor gets to keep it, as a perk to compensate for short run off-Broadway acting salaries).
The Body Politic's campaign and romance threatening plot device is a "dirty trick" relating to the candidates' views about religion. Not surprisingly, religion is also an added roadblock in the way of a happy outcome of the Spencer and Trish romance. Trish is not only a committed Democrat but Jewish (and, oh, yes, she's a vegetarian); Spencer is a Yale educated Wasp. If I were to indulge in the playwrights' stereotyping of Jews as being identifiable by their noses, I'd have to describe Eve Danzeiser as miscast on that basis alone, since her nose doesn't fit any "Jewish nose" pigeonhole. In fact, physically she could easily be the Wasp in this setup, as Matthew Boston in no way looks particularly Wasp-y.
But the main problem here is not how anyone looks but that for a fictionalized behind the scenes political story like this to win a landslide with theater goers the candidates and their romantically involved operatives to be really colorful, fully dimensioned characters, instead of saddling the actors with a lot of cliches. Dykstra and Kelly are both rather bland. Danzeiser and Boston are attractive and give their all to their roles, but they simply lack the oomph to make The Body Politic sizzle and the script they've been given doesn't help. Actually the most colorful characters are Danzeiser and Boston's nasty older counterparts, Hendrix and Michael Puzzo. that said, Hendrix, who's probably best known to theater goers as Law and Order's medical examiner, seems too intent on channeling Mary Matalen.
Speaking of the frequently mentioned Matalen-Carville affiliation, perhaps a more original and thought provoking play would have begun where this one ends. In focusing on how a couple who not only made a go of a seemingly impossible marriage but became rich and famous doing so, the playwrights would have a chance to explore how for all their differences about policies, too many of our politicians and their aides manage to fight their battles while enjoying pensions and health care benefits not available to many of their constituents. Even if a campaign doesn't end in victory, no worries about foreclosed homes and long unemployment. There are always cushy alternatives to become authors and television personalities (like Matalen and Carville) or lobbyists.