Smart, fleet-footed and firing enough enthusiastic
Unlike the politics of actually running the country, which has felt like an elaborate game of chicken of late, campaigns for political office exist in a universe all their own — a monthslong fog of junk food, late nights and paranoid, giddy camaraderie fueled by notions of power and influence. There's a tradition of plays and films in this vein, both fiction and non, and they never get old:
Willimon steals a little from all of them. But don't be scared off by the clunky title ("Farragut North" refers to the Metro stop in a section of Washington where former campaign workers set up shop as lobbyists — a retirement home for has-beens, in the metaphoric poetry of the play.) Frankly, the title of the play's soon-to-be-released movie adaptation from
Stage Left Theatre had the foresight to stage the play just as the film is about to hit the radar, and it's worth seeing this exceptionally watchable, cleverly designed production just for comparison's sake. Nothing is what it seems here, a world where the lingua franca is made up of hoary lines such as, "The question you gotta ask yourself is whether you want friends, or whether you want to work for the president."
Kicking off the fall season with a highly commercial property that should sell plenty of tickets, director Vance Smith has assembled a cast that shows just enough restraint to underplay key moments while allowing for scenery chewing when needed. This is, after all, a political campaign — if the histrionics were missing, something would be wrong.
Here is a key difference to watch for: In the film, Clooney stars as a governor running for the Democratic nomination in Iowa; in the play, the candidate remains offstage the entire time. Based on his experience working as a campaign insider for
Because the play so conspicuously avoids talk of any ideological issues (it was written prior to the
Ryan Gosling plays the young spinmeister in the film; Stage Left's production features Brian Plocharczyk in the role, and he is a dead-ringer for
To some extent, that's a flaw of the piece. There is a distinct lack of piercing insight, and the stakes never quite feel as high as they should, which keeps the play in the good-but-not-great column.
Still, that's better than most theatrical endeavors could hope to achieve — this is fun ride, plain and simple — and Smith has pulled together a slick little production working with set designer Roger Wykes, who has created a deceptively simple environment with pinstripe wallpaper that evokes everything from a generic hotel room to an airport lobby. And this is quite a solid cast, with Sandy Elias as a wise, even-keeled political operative, Sarah Denison as a hungry
When: Through Oct. 9
Where: Theater Wit,
1229 W. Belmont Ave.
Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes
Tickets: $25 at 773-975-8150