There are a few terrific performances in the Blank Slate Theatre Productions presentation of Farragut North but its subject matter left me cold.
Loosely based on Vermont Governor Howard Dean’s unsuccessful bid for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination, playwright Beau Willimon shuns the limelight of the actual campaign (the candidate is never seen) and instead focuses on the shadier backrooms where the real politics happen.
At the center of the campaign is 27-year old Stephen Bellamy (Alex McMorran) who is already a political veteran having worked on a number of political campaigns. Bellamy has become a master of the political game, orchestrating the sound bites and stump speeches while trading tiny nuggets of news for positive coverage for his candidate. But when Ballamy pulls focus from his candidate, allegiances are tested and all bets are off.
Drawing from his own real-life political experiences working on Dean’s campaign, writing speeches for Bill Clinton and working for New York Senator Chuck Schumer, Willimon brings a reality to his writing that it comes as no surprise to see why his play became the basis for the recent George Clooney film The Ides of March.
McMorran is near perfect as Bellamy, easily traversing the cocksure political puppeteer’s roller-coaster. Matching his intensity are performances by Drew Taylor as his immediate boss and a simply breathtaking performance from Meaghan Chenosky as the innocent intern Molly. As the leader of the rival camp, Kristopher West came into his own in the second half but his initial appearance felt timid and nervous. In the smaller roles Bryan Demore, Ben Whipple and Lilli Clark all work hard to flesh out their characters, but are given short shrift from the playwright. Whipple seems particularly wasted here as a “Joe The Plumber” everyman that Willimon attempts to use to provide some heart, but it only serves to accentuate the cold cynicism that runs deeply through the show.
Director Nicky Anderton keeps the pace brisk like a good episode of The West Wing, helped by Amanda Larder’s clever set and Lilli Clark’s 80s scene transition music.
As the race for the presidency heats up south of the border and the political fortunes of our own provincial parties are increasingly in question, there probably is no better time for a show like Farragut North to appear on Vancouver stages and political junkies will no doubt get their fix here.
But despite the performances, I still left the theatre feeling little for these characters; if we are to believe that so little humanity exists in politics it is no wonder we have such distrust in our elected officials. I shivered on the drive home.
By Beau Willimon. Directed by Nicky Anderton. A Blank Slate Theatre Productions presentation. On stage at the Havana Theatre through May 26, 2012. Visit the group’s Facebook event page for more information.