BWW Review: Gore Vidal's THE BEST MAN - Not An Even Fight
THE BEST MAN/by Gore Vidal/directed by Gary Lee Reed/Lounge Theatre/thru December 8, 2019
Gore Vidal's THE BEST MAN originally written in 1960 (and updated in 1976) about two presidential candidates vying for their party's nomination could have seem much more relevant to present day politics if the set and costumes didn't so vividly remind of the 1970s. Gary Lee Reed directs a committed, but uneven cast. Curious interpretation having the opposing candidates running for president as polar opposites, flip sides of a coin. Mark Belnick's Governor William Russell is everything John Ruby's Senator Joseph Cantwell isn't. While Ruby's Cantwell charms, had lots of charisma, self-confidence and a take charge energy; Belnick's bland, unassuming Russell has none. Hard to imagine Belnick's Russell even speaking in front of an audience to campaign for president, let alone governor.
On the eve of the party's nomination balloting, both Governor and Senator hope to secure an endorsement from President Arthur Hockstader (a commanding, solid and vulnerable Ian Patrick Williams). Williams' Hockstader dominates his scenes with Belnick's Governor; while Williams' Hockstader's much more evenly matched with Ruby's Cantwell in their much higher energized confrontations.
As the candidates' wives, Martha Hackett nicely provides her Alice Russell with a dignified reserve and unanticipated wit; while Aubrey Saverino's Mabel Cantwell personifies a wife's over-the-top devotion and willingness to do anything for her husband's success.
Zack Carter totally embodies the enthusiastic and efficient Dick Jenson, Governor Russell's campaign manager - the dream campaign manager for any candidate.
Rachel Winfree grabs center stage as Mrs. Gamadge, a combination candidate's wife's wrangler/advisor as she sometimes diplomatically, sometimes bluntly tells the ladies how they need to behave.
Michael William Thompson makes his mark as a former military buddy of Senator Cantwell, with Paul Morris III and Edwin Scheibner providing able assist in multiple supporting roles.
Props to scenic designer Brad Bentz for his 1970's hotel suite and his clever device of 'switching' hotel rooms simply by the use of flipped campaign posters - one side for Cantwell, the other for Russell. Points deducted for the twin beds represented by two flat boards covered with colored fabric. Kudos to costume designer Shon LeBlanc for his period pieces of what were the rage in the 70s, and to wig designer Diahann McCrary for two of her three faux coifs.
THE BEST MAN did start off very cleverly with 'The Theme from Shaft' playing as trench-coated 'secret agents' prepped the hotel room.