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BWW Review: Compass Players Presents Gore Vidal's THE BEST MAN


BWW Review: Compass Players Presents Gore Vidal's THE BEST MAN

Gore Vidal was a keen observer of American politics (himself the grandson of a United States Senator and twice a candidate for higher office) with little tolerance for the system's corruption. In his 1960 play THE BEST MAN, he skewers the people and the practices that then threatened the integrity of the electoral process. (In particular, he was aiming his disdain at the principals in the Democratic Party, save for fellow intellectual, Adlai Stevenson.)

(Note: THE BEST MAN snagged Tony Awards in 1960 for Best Play and then again in 2001 and 2012 for Best Revival of a Play.)

Compass Players, in an act of remarkable prescience, has resurrected the work, revealing that the more things political change, the more they remain the same. Imperfect candidates of different political and moral bents competing for their Party's Presidential nomination. Spouses and campaign advisors caught in the grip of not only the candidates' but also their own ambitions. The abuse and misuse of opposition research. Allegations of sexual promiscuity. Questions about a candidate's mental and physical fitness for office. The quandary as to whether or not the ends justify the means.

They're all there in THE BEST MAN, all the elements eerily and disquietingly familiar to today's audience, all compellingly played out to a surprise resolution by Compass's cast under the astute direction of Jeanna Michaels.

Steve Murphy and Matthew Cary deliver solid performances as the two candidates in the political dogfight of their lives.

Cary plays the role of Senator Joseph Cantwell, an unrepentant populist who will resort to defamation if it means scotching his opponent's shot at the nomination. He's possessed of a Lady Macbeth of his own ~ his wily and libidinous wife Mabel (an alluring Kandyce Hughes). Every candidate needs a bulldog in his corner and Jeffrey Middleton growls with the best them of them as Cantwell's ferociously loyal aide, Don Blades.

Steve Murphy is Secretary of State William Russell, a perpetual idealist, loath to reveal information that would be damaging to Cantwell but nevertheless tempted to play the smear card when the chips appear to be down. The convenient revelation about Cantwell's past surfaces courtesy of one of his former Army comrades (Derek Gaboriault, in an over-the-top performance as a quirky and obsequious Sheldon Marcus). Russell's aide, Dick Jensen (Al Benneian), is on the verge of ulcer from his boss's reticence to win at all costs.

If Cantwell is the plebeian, Russell is the patrician (with Murphy playing propriety to the hilt) but not so honorable as to refrain from sexual dalliances and not-so-subtle ogling of his secretary (Alison Marshall.) The good wife here is Alice (the elegant and stately Zoe Yeoman), albeit spurned and estranged, suffering the indignity of her spouse's infidelity, still savvy to the ways of political life and keeping her eye on the gold.

Both candidates vie unabashedly for the support of deal brokers and king makers ~ Sue-Ellen Gamadge (Debra Lyman, the caricature of a self-indulgent plutocrat) and ex-President Arthur Hockstader (C.D. Macaulay, epitomizing the blowhard with the power to make or break a politician's future).

American politics has always been a messy endeavor, ever posing ethical challenges to its aspirants and anxiety to its people. Vidal peels away at the onion, leaving the audience to wonder how in the world our democracy survives and where the best man and women are who will save us from ourselves. Questions worth contemplating ~ and, a show worth seeing!

THE BEST MAN runs through January 28th in the McMillin Theater at Peoria Center for the Performing Arts.

Photo credit to Compass Players

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From This Author Herbert Paine