May The Best Man Win

by Louise, Community Manager

I don’t know if you all noticed, but there’s a presidential election going on. I suppose if you don’t live in the USA, or if you do but your home is under a rock, you might be less aware, but it seems like the 2012 Presidential Election has been being shoved in our faces every second of every day for at least a year, with still months to go before we know the outcome. It’s this reality that gave me somewhat mixed feelings about checking out The Best Man, a revival of Gore Vidal’s play set in 1960 that tells the story of two men battling for their party’s nomination. Ultimately, though, the all-star cast featuring James Earl Jones, Angela Lansbury, John Larroquette, Candice Bergen and Eric McCormack won me over. I’m glad they did.

Former Secretary of State William Russell and young Senator Joseph Cantwell, along with a third elusive candidate whom we never meet, are in the throes of a final battle to secure their party’s nomination for President. The action takes place in their two hotel suites in Philadelphia the first day of their party’s convention (I may be mistaken, but I don’t think it was ever mentioned with which party they are affiliated). As the story moves forward we learn that (as seems to be the case with all politicians) each candidate has something to hide that could potentially lose them the election. Everyone seems well aware that neither candidate has enough delegate votes to secure the nomination if something doesn’t change, and time is running out for something to change.

The Best Man is a behind-the-scenes look at everything you might imagine goes on during a primary election – back door deals, pleas for important endorsements, tense face-offs between the candidates, their campaign managers, their wives, and everyone around them. While democracy is one of our country’s proudest attributes, it often seems like it can bring out the worst in us, and The Best Man illustrates that point well. I couldn’t decide whether it was more comforting or disturbing that a play that was written in 1960 seemed almost like it could have been set in modern day with very few changes.

The play is replete with powerhouse performances. For me, the standouts were Angela Lansbury as Sue-Ellen Gamadge, the chatty and opinionated Chairman of the Woman’s Division, and Candice Bergen as the somewhat reserved but razor-witted Alice Russell, wife of one of the candidates. John Larroquette is also phenomenal, of course. At one point, he yells at his opponent “Joseph, SHUT UP” and several audience members burst into spontaneous applause from the sheer satisfaction of hearing his delivery. Unfortunately, I attended the show the day after Michael McKean was injured in a car accident, and I would have loved to have seen him, but there are plenty of terrific performances to enjoy. There is always the fear of disappointment when you see so many actors with amazing reputations performing together in one piece, but this group delivers everything their names promise.

Obviously I won’t tell you who the eventual candidate is, but I will tell you I walked out of the theater very satisfied, which is not a feeling one offer encounters after two and a half hours of politics. Or maybe that’s just me.

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