Silver Spring Stage Farragut NorthBy Bob Ashby • Sep 24th, 2012 • Category: Reviews
Silver Spring Stage
Woodmoor Shopping Center, Silver Spring, MD
Through October 6th
2:20 with intermission
$20/$18 Seniors and Juniors
Reviewed September 22nd, 2012
In pair of episodes from The West Wing (“In the Shadow of Two Gunmen” Parts 1 and 2), flashbacks tell the story of then-candidate Jed Bartlett’s primary campaign for the Democratic nomination, during which — despite various mishaps — the candidate’s staff members bond and coalesce into the effective unit that ultimately runs the fictional White House. One might look at Beau Willimon’s Farragut North as the dark side of The West Wing, in which a Democratic presidential candidate’s staff implodes amidst multiple breaches of trust. Silver Spring Stage provides a strongly acted and well-paced view of the destruction.
The plot unfolds through a series of seductions and betrayals. Hot-shot press secretary Stephen Bellamy (Jonathan Feuer) regales his boss, Paul Zara (Bill Hurlburt), New York Times reporter Ida Horowitz (Leta Hall), and Ben, a lowly intern (Omar Latiri), with his story of how he seduced Horowitz into writing a favorable story. Sexually adventurous young intern Molly (Janey Robideau) then literally seduces Bellamy, landing in his bed for the night (Monica Lewinsky should have looked this good). Tom Duffy (Mario Font), the campaign manager for the opposing candidate, then attempts to seduce Bellamy into switching sides. A major weakness of the script is that the secret election dirty tricks scheme that Duffy uses to convince Bellamy that Bellamy’s candidate will lose is far too complex, involving far too many people, to have any hope of succeeding in a political atmosphere in which, as the rest of the play makes clear, nothing remains secret for long.
The acting is uniformly good, with Font carrying home top honors for his fully believable, detailed portrayal of a James Carville-like political operator, hardened and cynical to the core, as ready to abandon as to seduce his prey. As the smart, proud, arrogant Bellamy, whose loyalty to his candidate and colleagues fights a losing battle with his ambition, Fueer pulls off the interesting acting challenge of playing a character whose “arc” is nearly straight downward. Feuer makes it possible to understand a character that no one, including the Bellamy himself, can admire.
Hurlburt’s Zara, a veteran of many campaigns, is a combination of undiminished idealism and commitment and stern insistence on loyalty and serving the candidate’s interest, a boss who it is not hard to work for but whom one should not cross. Like Duffy, Zara knows how to knife someone quietly before the victim realizes it. Hall’s Horowitz enjoys the game of mutual seduction between reporter and source, able to play others and, when necessary, willing to allow herself to be played. Her strongest moment comes when she explains to Bellamy that the symbiosis they have enjoyed should not be confused with friendship.
Bellamy consistently bullies Ben, who at first appears to submissively accept the mistreatment. LaTri’s character grows in assertiveness and confidence as the play goes on, with Ben finally seizing the opportunity provided by Bellamy’s fall to engineer his own rise. After Molly’s first appearance, where she unsubtly arranges her rendezvous with Bellamy, Robideau deepens her characterization to include an honest and caring side absent from most of the other characters.
The functional set does turns as a restaurant, a lounge, two different bedrooms, an office, and an airport concourse. The scene changes are made efficiently. Unfortunately, the sound design accompanies the changes with excessively loud drum rolls and background conversational noise. The production would have been well advised to ratchet back the decibel level. The lighting design cleanly defined playing areas (e.g., the restaurant, Duffy’s office, Bellamy at a door at the end of the play) when the entire stage was not involved in a scene. On a number of occasions, there was successful split-second timing between the lights coming up full and an actor’s delivery of the first line of a scene.
Farragut North became the basis for a 2011 movie, The Ides of March, which considerably bulked up and sensationalized the play’s plot, adding characters like the candidate himself (played by George Clooney, who also directed). While any chance to see actors like Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti (who played Zara and Duffy, respectively) is worth the effort, Farragut North is a tighter, more cohesive piece, and Silver Spring Stage’s production is a winner.
A key piece of my proposal to direct Farragut North was answering the challenge of producing this show just before the presidential election, amidst an environment of extreme election fatigue. Would be DC area be exhausted. Would the DC area be exhausted with campaigning by the time the play opens? My answer: no.
Campaign teams have created a high-stakes system where they absolutely must win in order to continue to play the game. In their political game book, no trick is too dirty, no lie is too outrageous and no spin is to ingenious if it gets your candidate over the top.
The presidential election is our area’s thrill-a-minute pastime. We are caught in the throes of election fever, hungry for another fix of strategy parsing and revelations of what string-pullers do behind the curtains.
This our World Series, our Super Bowl. We form alliances, know and understand the language, and all the stats, and enjoy playing armchair campaign manager or armchair candidate. And we remain fully invested through the final moments of the game.
But foremost, this is not a story about politics. Avoiding talk of ideological issues, this story focus not on the politics, but on the human drama of risk, ambition, decision-making, and consequences. It is about morality, couched in the world of politics — a tale about loyalty, excessive lust for power and costs one will endure to achieve it. Even those bored with politics will relate to the emotional trial of someone trying to advance himself, while still trying to do the right thing. It is as much about what drives the pursuit of victory as it us about the way political machinations have eclipsed what has really at stake in our elections: us.
Photos by Harvey Levine
- Stephen Bellamy: Jonathan Feuer
- Paul Zara: Bill Hurlbut
- Ida Horowitz: Leta Hall
- Ben Fowles: Omar Latiri
- Tom Duffy: Mario Font
- Molly Pearson: Janey Robideau
- Frank/Waiter: Jason Damaso
- Director: Bridget Muehlberger
- Assistant Director: Amy Sullivan
- Producers: Bridget Muehlberger, Natalie McManus
- Set Designer: Joy Wyne
- Set Dresser: Nancy Davis
- Lighting Designer: Chris Curtis
- Sound Designer: Kevin Garrett
- Properties: Sonya Okin
- Costume Designer: Crystal Fergusson
- Stage Manager: Adam Simms
- Assistant Stage Manager: Jasmine Alston
Disclaimer: Silver Spring Stage provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/8656.
Bob Ashby has been an active participant in the Washington-area community theater scene since his arrival in town in 1975.