In these fraught political times, a revival of Beau Willimon’s play, Farragut North, is unsettlingly apt. Loosely inspired by Willimon’s time as a political volunteer in the senatorial campaigns of Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton, as well as the presidential campaigns of Bill Bradley and Howard Dean, Farragut North is the story of a few players in the game of political thrones. Why unsettling? The playwright kicks over the political rock to reveal the venality of a certain set of men and woman for whom winning is everything, trumping love, honesty, and loyalty. The show stirs up the enduring angst over the recent presidential campaign, as well as the off-balance lurching of the current administration.
Stephen Bellamy (Jack Tynan), at the tender age of twenty-five, is a wunderkind of political press relations. Acknowledged as the best at his job, he is the media head for a Democratic contender rising in the polls just ahead of the Iowa caucuses. Stephen is handsome, bright and driven. He has sacrificed a long-standing relationship with a woman he cares for on the altar of ambition. Stephen’s boss, Paul Zara (Geoffrey Lower), is an old-hand campaign manager, both charming and crude. Just as striving and perhaps a bit less amoral as the men, a New York Times political reporter, Ida (Jennifer Cannon), strives for the front page, which is good, but above the fold is better. She spells it out plainly that her relationship with the politicos is friendly, but they are not friends. She does whatever is necessary to get the story.
Stirring up the political pot, the opposition candidate’s campaigner manager, Tom Duffy (Andy Umberger), is a Machiavel who seeks to co-opt the caucuses by stealthy methods. Young intern Ben (Adam Faison), polite, self-contained and pliable, is no less ambitious, putting himself forward in subtle, passive-aggressive ways. And all these strivers make an audience suspicious when a nineteen year-old sexpot named Molly (Margaret Fegan) hits on Stephen. The sole character that displays unalloyed honesty is the owner-waiter (Francisco J. Rodriguez) of a dingy restaurant in East Des Moines. But even he is sucked in by the hype of the candidate.
Under the fast paced direction of Cathy Fitzpatrick Linder, Farragut North makes for gripping, if disturbing, entertainment tinged with a kind of existential horror. The likeable characters of the first scene get peeled down to an empty core, which then inevitably calls to mind the current political anxiety. While not comfortably fitting into the Aristotelian definition of tragedy, the actions of the characters are disconcerting to watch, and do provoke a certain pity. One cannot look away from this valuable, instructive work of theatre art. I think it reaches back all the way to Athenian model. Kudos to the players and all involved.
Farragut North runs through May 21 at The Odyssey Theatre, 2055 South Sepulveda Blvd. in Los Angeles.