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‘Farragut North’ a compelling peek at political corruption
|Stage Left Theatre presents|
Review by Lauren Whalen
Politics is a game of thrones. No other profession is so simultaneously unselfish and self-serving. Many skip into the field with wide eyes and open hearts, only to limp away lost and scarred or to remain and rise, now addicted to the thrill of the win. At the heart of politics is a common goal, but it isn’t the greater good. Whether the result is a front-page byline, a stolen tryst, or a Congressional seat, everyone from the intern to the reporter to the candidate is out for one thing: power.
Farragut North, Stage Left Theatre‘s Chicago premiere of Beau Willimon‘s acclaimed political drama, follows one wunderkind’s pursuit of power with a smart script enacted by a mostly skillful cast. Willison wastes not a word as his characters strategize over drinks, cunningly swap favors, banter as foreplay, and occasionally interact with the genuine emotion that has no place in a campaign outside of heartfelt public speeches. Director Vance Smith keeps the pacing tight – the play clocks in at under two hours – while still giving the high-stakes story the respect it deserves.
At the center of Farragut North is Stephen Bellamy (Brian Plocharczyk). Only 25 years old, Stephen is already a veteran of several campaigns and now serves as press secretary in a presidential primary race. Stephen can spin anti-Semitism into campaign gold and curries favor with journalist Ida (Sarah Denison), pretty intern Molly (Melanie Derleth) and wise campaign manager Paul (Michael Dailey). But when Stephen receives a phone call that could change the course of his political career, idealism and ambition descend into paranoia, betrayal and possible ruin.
Plocharczyk is stellar as hyper-articulate Stephen, channeling the easy charm of Bradley Cooper, the affability of Adam Scott and the calculated chatter of Jesse Eisenberg. Equally strong is Dailey’s Paul, a good old boy who worked his way up as a campaign manager and values loyalty above all else. Denison’s Ida possesses a sharp intelligence and believable hunger for news, and Derleth is pleasantly surprising as Molly, the intern who isn’t quite as innocent as she first appears.
The cast’s weakest link, Ian Daniel McLaren, could have been its breakout performance with a wiser interpretation. In a group of clear, honest performances, McLaren’s portrayal of campaign underling Ben is indecisively shallow. Is Ben really that sweet and naive, or is that the angle he plays to get ahead? The audience doesn’t know. And perhaps that is the playwright’s intention, but if McLaren showed Ben’s hand a bit more, the audience would be treated to a fascinating character rather than a dull paper doll.
Additionally, at times the political jargon threatens to obstruct the compelling plot. Farragut North is loosely based on Willison’s experience working on the 2004 presidential campaign of Howard Dean, and there’s no doubt the dialogue is accurate. The words don’t need to be dumbed down, but perhaps softened for the average theatregoer who might not be well-versed in every aspects of politics.
Named by “Time” magazine as one of the top 10 plays of 2008, Farragut North – the title signifies a Washington D.C. train route and symbolizes resignation – has also been adapted into the forthcoming film “The Ides of March,” directed by George Clooney and starring Ryan Gosling, Paul Giamatti and Philip Seymour Hoffman. But that’s not why Stage Left’s production deserves a full house every night. In a word, Farragut North is solid. The actors shine. The script crackles and pops, but not at the expense of its characters. The direction is deceptively simple, leaving audiences questioning the players’ every word and move. After all, this is politics. What’s really sincere? But in Farragut North‘s galaxy of constellations, the shooting star of is Willimon’s spectacular dialogue in all its witty brutality. Look out, Aaron Sorkin: there’s a new wordsmith in town.
Stage Left Theatre’s Farragut North continues through October 9th at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 3pm. Tickets are $25, and can be purchased by phone (773-975-8150) or online at TheaterWit.org. More information at StageLeftTheatre.com. (Running time: 1 hour 50-minutes with a 10-minute intermission)
All photos by Johnny Knight
behind the scenes
Vance Smith (director), Tara Malpass (stage manager), Alice Magelssen (production manager), Roger Wykes (scenic), Jessica Harpenau (lighting), Elizabeth Flauto (costumes), Lindsay Monahan (props), Adam Smith (sound), Rick Julien (tech director), Katie Horwitz (asst. director), Maggie Carlin (dramaturg), Rick Condorf (scenic carpenter), seamstudios.com (graphics), Johnny Knight (photos)