Every four years in America there is this little thing called The Presidential Elections. Every year I find myself more and more frustrated at the lack of change in our political culture. Go back 40 years and every election cycle boils down to the same three or four topics –Sex, Abortion, Taxes, and sometimes War.
The tenor of the debate ends up containing the same tired buzzwords. Never has this been more evident than in the Broadway revival of Gore Vidal’s political satire The Best Man. The really fun, but really sad thing about this production is that producer Jeffrey Richards and his team revived the show without modernizing any of the dialog. This production is essentially the original 1960s version.
In this context watching the play makes me feel like we’re in a time warp, or at the very least never left that time. The same issues that were fought and argued about in the ’60s are still being debated. You would think we’d be fighting over regulations for flying cars by now or whether to put settlements on Mars…Oh, wait. Hey, Newt! Something, anything, other than tax cuts, abortion, and gay rights.
Every time the show cuts between the Cantwells and their chief political rivals, the old-school Secretary of State William Russell (John Larroquette) and his demure unassuming wife Alice Russell (Candice Bergen), you really see the stark contrast in generational styles.
Angela Lansbury does a couple of guest spots as Mrs. Sue-Ellen Gamadge, the Chairman of the Women’s Division. All the performances in Gore Vidal’s The Best Man are stellar.
James Earl Jones is at the top of his game and can still command the stage. On the eve of a major convention, both candidates are vying for the endorsement of former President Arthur Hockstader (Jones). It’s tit for tat as each candidate tries to win this coveted endorsement. It is a race to the bottom to see who has the guts to go for the throat when each candidate finds explosive dirt on the other. It becomes a debate about what is the “right” way to win and how low are you willing to go.
Director Michael Wilson does a fantastic job keeping all the pieces moving. I loved the stagecraft in this production. When you walk into the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, you immediately feel as if you had walked back in time and are at an old-style convention. Every section is decorated with state flags. There’s an old-school news anchor, John Malcom (Sherman Howard), who sits in the balcony providing updates. On the stage the candidates watch old black and white news coverage of the convention. It’s all very well done and makes the audience feel part of the production.
If this play wasn’t originally staged in 1960 you would swear the race was about the Clintons vs. Bush, or even the Obamas vs. the Romneys. Nothing has changed in 40 years of politics and the sad thing is, 40 years from now this play will still be relevant. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Gore Vidal’s The Best Man is currently playing on Broadway at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater.