1925 was an auspicious year. Especially the month of October when Gore Vidal author of the 1960 scathingly sharp satire and up-to-the-minute mud slinging indictment of the political nominating procedure – THE BEST MAN – and Angela Lansbury who portrays Mrs. Sue-Ellen Gamadge to perfection in this outstanding revival, were born.
This is about the best revival of a play that you will see this season. It is an immensely entertaining, well structured and well written three act play that is extremely funny and terrifyingly scary at the same time that zeros in on the back room shenanigans of some politicians at work at the 1960 Presidential Convention in Philadelphia Pennsylvania.
Director Michael Wilson along with his design team – Derek McLane (sets) Ann Roth (costumes) Kenneth Posner (lighting) and John Gromada (sound) have transformed the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre into the convention hall itself.
With red, white and blue bunting, placards from the states, television monitors, stirring music, background noises of cheers and jeers and ushers that are wearing the typical straw boater hats you are at once involved in the proceedings.
Mr. Wilson has guided his all star cast into giving four star performances. He wrings every ounce of humor out of the text, yet allowing its seriousness to shine through like old glory. He knows how to set up a laugh and makes sure that you hear it. He is a master of entrances and exits allowing the audience to applaud each and every star turning moment.
Of course, having some excellent actors does help. And does he ever have a terrific group of actors in this best of all possible THE BEST MAN production.
A commanding James Earl Jones is Former President Arthur Hockstader – the man that ex-Secretary of State William Russell, a superstitious womanizer with a past history of health issues (a wonderfully wry John Larroquette) and Senator Joseph Cantwell (Eric McCormack) a sly manipulator who will stop at nothing to be elected – both woo in order to gain his endorsement. Both have skeletons in their closets. Both have ample opportunities to ruin each others chances. Both have wives that have their own agendas.
Alice Russell (a sardonic Candice Bergen) is ready to forget his philandering and to stand by her man. Mabel Cantwell (a bubbly Kerry Butler) guzzles martinis while dreaming of becoming First Lady. Both ladies hit the bull’s eye in their portrayals of the “political assets” of their respective spouses.
Jefferson Mays as Sheldon Marcus – an old Army buddy of Cantwell is particularly uncomfortable as he is brought in to expose some explosive information that may or may not be true in this game of political skullduggery.
John Malcolm, in his best David Brinkley News Commentator voice, gives us updates and bulletins from an upper side box while the cameras roll and we are transported to each of the hotel suites where gossip and issues collide.
After the first act curtain the audience was abuzz and you could tell they were anxious to see what would transpire next. Gore Vidal’s THE BEST MAN is simply terrific. Funny. Frightening. And so prescient.
The timing could not have been more perfect for this timely revival. See it. And be extremely wary of who you vote for this November.
www.thebestmanonbroadway.com Photos: Joan Marcus
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