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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Beau Willamon's play about a press secretary's political and ethical education is restaged from its Atlantic Theater Co run with much of the cast intact. (CurtainUp's Review of that production) New to director Doug Hughes's ensemble is Chris Pine (the new Star Trek'sCaptain Kirk, to you) taking over from John Gallagher Jr. as the play's lead, hot shot spin-ster Stephen Bellamy. More cyber ink will be spelled about Pine anon.
Farragut North named after a D.C. underground stop, spins a tale of seduction, intrigue and potential betrayal that seems to be the hallmark of many a political yarn. At intermission, as the plot had begun to get tricky, this reviewer made a guess at which character was most likely playing clandestinely for the other team. To the credit of playwright Willamon, a former campaign staffer himself, I guessed wrong.
Farragut North gives us Stephen, a slick but, we're to assume, well meaning idealist who gets his face shoved into a pretty nasty reality bath and pushes back in a way that would be appreciated by Neal LaBute (whose work Farragut somewhat echoes) Willamon's are characters who utter the right platitudes about the need for change and a new America, but are by no means above the questionable dealings it may take to achieve them. And we're talking about the press secretaries, interns and campaign managers here. The candidates themselves are never seen.
Following a splashy video and projection display (designed by Bec Stupak and Joshua White) on the walls of David Korrin's set, we are dropped into a hotel bar with three staffers from the Morris for President campaign, and a journalist. They are veteran campaign manager Paul Zara (played by Chris Noth), New York Times reporter Ida Horowicz (Mia Barron), up and coming press intern Ben (Dan Bittner) and Stephen, the star. A veteran of more than five campaigns, Stephen is now gunning to become the press secretary to the next leader of the free world. We're in Iowa, a week before the important Iowa primary.
Stephen's barmates are themselves no slouches. Paul, charmingly disreputable, is a top player. Ida is working on her next big election scoop, and is being artfully played by both Stephen and Paul (or is she playing them?) Ben sits quietly and admiringly, soaking in everything about Stephen, and occasionally being dispatched to get drinks when the A-team members have to speak confidentially. Each of these characters will figure prominently in the events to unfold.
Paul soon hops a plane to hobnob with a desperately craved endorsement target. And in the course of a single night that conveniently allows for quick plot advancement, Stephen unwisely takes a meeting with rival campaign manager Tom Duffy (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), gets hugely drunk and beds Molly (Olivia Thirlby) an intern from his own camp. Our hero, once so cocksure, has reached an impasse. Duffy has given Stephen strong hidden evidence that Morris is headed for drefeat. Stephen has a chance to jump to the rival campaign, but he has to decide quickly. To make matters worse, news of the Stephen/Duffy meeting has leaked to Ida, touching off all sorts of ramifications both political and personal. In the midst of this, Stephen is also trying to carve out some sort of an understanding with Molly who he likes, but doesn't want to become entangled with.
With the possible exception of Molly, these are difficult people to like, so enmeshed are they in the goal of getting their man in. Paul has a rousing, West Wing-echoing speech about "taking back the country" which he then undercuts by excusing himself to hit the John. Stephen is nursing the remains of a freshly broken relationship, and we're to understand that he gets weepy with Molly when he's smashed, although this doesn't really seem like a character given to that kind of emotion. Which leaves Molly, a well travelled 19-year-old who is not so inexperienced, and who is looking to find her own way. Thirlby has a nice down to earth, non political appeal to her (to say nothing of a great head of hair). When she says, "You can trust me," you want to believe her. And you want Stephen to believe her.
But Farragut North is a play for, and about, boys who play dirty (David Mamet as well as the already mentioned LaBute could doubtless relate). Stephen's once naíve take on the nature of loyalty is due for a body blow. But, as previously noted, he'll hit back. Hard.
Pine, who played a convincing slimebag in LaBute's Fat Pig at the Geffen has the chops to bring off a conflicted soul. The actor's prettiness has an edginess that overrides any boyishness and a slightly graveled voice that suggests that Stephen has spent a few off hours mainlining cigarettes and hard liquor. The bent-ness, the non golden boy charm that worked so well for Kirk serves this character equally well, and when Stephen plays his final devastating card, the moment isn't as shocking as it might be.
Noth, the production's other headliner, is several rumples more dishsheveled than Carrie Bradshaw's Mr. Big, and the actor is clearly having a blast with this aging bad boy. Paul turns out to be something of a bastard, but so is Duffy. In fact, so is just about everyone, and they've all got good cause. Because, as it happens, Willamon's got something important to say about the country's greater good trumping the need for questionable political doings. If careers and lives are to be casualties to a better America, well, the playwright can live with that. This sentiment is expressed via a statement to the press at play's end. Its reader closes the play by saying "I won't take questions." Farragut North may leave you with a few. Even if it doesn't, it's
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