Monthly Archive for: ‘June, 2015’

Farragut North 588x266

Farragut North Games for the Presidency

“Farragut North” by Beau Willimon
Directed by James Nelson
Presented at the Masquers Playhouse, June 5, 2015

The Masquers Playhouse is the perfect place for a political campaign. It’s like an operating theatre where the audience can watch as the actors plot to elect the new president. Written in 2008 by an aide (the author) who was there, Farragut North loosely outlines the political intrigues that could have taken place during the 2004 election. It’s David Mamet meets William Shakespeare in a bar in Des Moines.

Pack Beauregard “Beau” Willimon wrote this play while studying at Julliard in 2008. He has since graduated in many ways, writing three complete seasons of “House of Cards” for American audiences. Willimon worked many jobs on the campaign trail for Charles Schumer, Hillary Clinton and Howard Dean; the insights presented in this play reflect his combined experiences.

In the play, campaign publicity agents meet informally with the press to discuss their strategy to win the White House for their candidate.  Of course in the beginning, everyone is a genius. This play is about the cracks that appear in the finish and below the surface of these people as they move on the scenes.

Enrico Banson, as Stephen Bellamy, tries to define the campaign as a game, but mistakes and lost chances to recover make the game more and more real. Steve is consumed personally as he becomes a player drawn out of his game into the intrigues of the whole campaign field. He tries to work his magic as he moves from gamer to compulsive politician who is desperate to resolve his mistakes at any cost, and to stay
in the game. Banson plays a very human tactician, with emotions that are wonderfully revealed on stage through the story. Banson’s character cannot decide when and if the politician listens to the heart over the head?

Paul Zara, played by Dominick Palamenti, is an ethical manager that works the field to move the campaign forward. Steve works for Paul, who trusts his staff and depends on them to keep him informed at every step of the “game.” When Steve meets with the opposition candidate’s publicity agent, Tom Duffy (played by Chuck Isen), the game goes in strangely different directions. Steve does not jump ship to Tom’s campaign, but neither does he keep in touch with Paul about the meeting. This murky meeting proves to be a problem, as “leaks” about the meeting threaten to undermine the whole process. Dominick plays a strong boss that is not vindictive as much as unforgiving, but with his own weaknesses.

Ida Horowicz, played by Jayme Catalano, is our strong-willed newspaper woman covering the campaign. She will not take NO for an answer, especially when a deadline looms. She has a nose for news in a campaign that never sleeps. Once she smells a problem in the campaign, she threatens to write her own story if players are not forthcoming with the information she seeks; she does not hold any prisoners. Catalano is a very flexible actress that handles her character with an iron will to “make the grade” on her stories. She is believable and intimidating enough to force the other campaign people to make decisions that will hurt them. In looking for “the truth” we see that her
character is just as much after power as anyone else.

Chuck Isen (playing Tom Duffy) wears the perfect poker face mask for his role of opposition insider. He tells a good story that reeks of confidential insider information and tactical war plans for the other side. Of course this is to lure Steve away from his course of action in the campaign game. Is Tom more honest than the next guy and does he have a better plan in progress than anyone else? Isen keeps the lid on the story, but we suspect there is more.

The stage is set and the now-changed game proceeds. Steve has explained to Paul about the meeting, but the damage is done and there is a price to be paid.

Enter Alana Samuels as a bright and beautiful Intern, Molly Pearson. Molly and Steve have a brief fling after some heavy drinking, and as the play develops, we see that Molly is possibly the only person with any compassion and morality in the game. Samuels plays the intern with a strong heart that wants to help Steve at a personal level. We want this to be true. We also want Steve to recognize this as his blessing.

Ben Fowles, played by Cameron Dodd, is a new employee of the campaign: mild-mannered and very new to the world of politics, but very bright and anxious to please. Dodd plays a good novice to the game. His character is either a good actor or someone who really wants to participate in a clean game of politics. Is this possible? Ben effectively plays the role on this edge.

Last but not least, Carl Smith plays Frank and the waiter. The waiter is interesting in this story. Though not a power broker or player in the game, Smith sets the bar for honesty and democratic politics. He is the straight person in this play, and that’s important to see the game set beside the honest broker of democracy. Good work, Carl.
Director James Nelson does a great job at keeping the emotional issues inherent in this play as clean as possible to help with our understanding of the true meaning of the story. The movement of the play is perfect for the theatre, with players involving the audience directly on the floor of the theatre during the scene changes; this is very effective at defining the characters. There is just one main player,

Stephen Bellamy, and we see the game through his eyes. Everyone else interacts with Steve to move him through the story to its inevitable conclusion. The story is interesting and the pace never fails to keep our attention alive with our questions.

Strategy is one thing to define at the highest levels of this play, but the tactics of the campaign with strong opponents is another. Truth becomes the first casualty in this race; ethics follows soon thereafter with the attempted cleanup. The big loser at the end of the game is personal integrity. “To be or not to be,” echoes in the theatre after this very effectively told story concludes.

***1/2
Gary Gonser
SFBATCC

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