With an eye firmly looking ahead to the upcoming Presidential election, Silver Spring Stage’s current production of “Farragut North” presents a neat little hat trick – a play about politics that is not a political play.
So no health care debates or mind numbing budget ceiling discussions here. “Farragut North” is all about the game of politics and how it is played from an insider’s point of view. And for all the lofty ideas that the candidates spout, this is a game played in the gutter. If you had a low opinion of politicians before you enter the theater, this play will only confirm those views. It is an often funny play, with the humor becoming more biting as the plot progresses, and the Stage does a great job with this caustic work.
Let me first dispel two elephants in the room (or donkeys, depending on your political affiliation). Yes this play was the basis for the recent George Clooney film “The Ides of March,” but there are enough differences in plot and emphasis between the two works to make the play almost a separate entity. It is also true that playwright Beau Willimon worked on the 2004 Howard Dean campaign and has noted that the play loosely based on that experience, but the key word here is “loosely.”
The setting is not DC but the crucial Iowa caucus, and the lead characters work for a very Dean-esque candidate named Governor Morris. The real center of attention is press secretary Stephen Bellamy, a young political wunderkind who at 25 years old is already a master of campaign spin. A phone call out of the blue from the opponent’s camp sets off a series of events, and the political spin master soon gets a crash course in what it is like to be on the other side of the spin cycle.
It is a very dog eat dog world where loyalty is perhaps the most prized commodity, for the simple reason it is so rarely encountered. From co-workers to opponents to the media to love interests, who is and is not your friend changes on an hourly basis, or is never fully known, and looking out for number one is the only job description that counts.
Front and center is Jonathan Feuer as Bellamy, full of youthful confidence and bravado at the start of the play and fascinating to watch as his situation devolves around him. As his fellow coworkers, Bill Hurlbut as campaign manager Zara and Omar La Tiri as apprentice Ben are equally interesting to watch as their fortunes changes in counterpoint to Bellamy’s.
But perhaps the most intriguing are three supporting roles: Leta Hall as political reporter Ida, Mario Font as a member of the opponent’s camp, and Janey Robideau as fellow co-worker/romantic interest Molly. Where do these people stand in all the events that transpire on stage? The playwright plays these characters close to the vest and so do the actors. Even after the play is over, you wonder how innocent (or guilty) these three people really were.
Good job by director Bridget Muehlberger for keeping the play focused and well-paced. Act One is tricky – it is a little talky as Willimon carefully sets up his characters and situations. Muehlberger and her cast keep it constantly moving with lots of little stage business. That way when we hit Act Two, all the mouse traps that Willimon has carefully set up can all start snapping shut.
I wanted to criticize the play for creating such smart political people and then not having them know better when situations develop. Unfortunately, as every election cycle seems to prove, that’s politics. At every political level, in both political parties, candidates and their supporters are always saying or doing things that in retrospect seem totally idiotic. The play remains timely and accurate on that front too.
Farragut North is of course the Metro stop in DC – it is where the lobbyists and a lot of the think tanks reside, and worth a good cutting remark late in the game about what happens to old politicos. Willimon creates a very amoral world where inspirational speeches are mixed with gutter ball antics. It’s a fascinating place to visit but perhaps one would not want to live there. Pick up a rock one day and stare at what is crawling around underneath it – it might be Willimon’s characters.
Mocovox Entertainment Critic