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New Jersey by Bob Rendell

Bracing and Lively Farragut North
Offers Realistic View Inside Political Campaign

Also see Bob's review of Release Point

Farragut North
Philip Mills and Cara Ganski
It is difficult to face the reality that no one individual can successfully play the vicious, corrosive and duplicitous game of American politics with integrity and honesty intact. For example, integrity to issues is so unacceptable that there is even a name for anyone on the right (in or out of politics) who does not understand that it is the job of junior elected officials to acquiesce to their entrenched leadership and its arrangements with the "opposition party." That name is "wingnut," shorthand for "right wing nut." One of the things that makes Farragut North so bracing and unusual is that it is an effective revelation of the corruption of the political animal as viewed from the left side of the aisle.

Author Beau Willimon was an operative for Howard Dean during the 2004 Democratic Party Presidential primary, and has loosely based his play on his experiences. Farragut North made its New York debut with the Atlantic Theatre Company in 2008. Now, during the 2012 election race, it is again available to metropolitan area theatregoers in a fresh and youthfully exuberant production. This is appropriate, as we see the play through the eyes of a two young tyros who are working their way up the campaign ladder.

The setting is Des Moines, Iowa, during the 2008 Democratic Party caucuses. The callow and ambitious 25 year old Stephen, press secretary to the unseen Dem candidate, Governor Morris, is quite full of himself. However, Stephen is smart and hard working, and heavily relied on by Morris campaign manager, Paul, his wary boss. Stephen is intrigued by a telephone call from Tom, the campaign manager for Morris' chief caucus rival, asking him to meet with him at an out of the way restaurant. Without informing Paul (who is off to South Carolina), Stephen meets the shrewd and manipulating Tom.

The mischief is afoot as Willimon delivers an enviable number of entertaining and interesting twists and turns, almost all of which will have you nodding yes, this is just the way these people would act. In addition to those already mentioned, these people include Ben, Stephen's pushy assistant; Ida, a New York Times reporter covering the campaign; and Molly, a 19 year old Morris intern. What is misery for them, is fun for us.

Philip Mills as Stephen captures the persona of a youth transitioning from nerd to player in a loose and energetic performance. Steven Carter is convincing as Ben, the really smart, younger and more nerdy version of Stephen. As wearying campaign managers Paul and Tom, Paul Bernardo and Steven Hauck, respectively, give thoughtful, low-key nuanced performances.

Roya Shanks as Times reporter Ida achieves an effective balance between the ingratiating fa็ade in which she has minimal interest and her cold ambition. Cara Ganski is an appealing Molly, although her line readings are sometimes too strong.

Farragut North refers to an area of D.C. that abounds with lobbying and political consulting firms. It is where our campaign stalwarts most likely and unhappily wind up when the bloom is off their hot shot status.

Director Michael Barakiva keeps matters moving quickly clearly across the large and attractive semi abstract set by Joseph Gourley. The set features banks of large HDTV monitors which get heavy duty usage. (

Farragut North reached movie screens in 2011 under the title The Ides of March. It was re-set in Idaho, and added the role of Governor Morris which was played by George Clooney, who also directed the film and co-authored the screenplay with Grant Heslov and playwright Beau Willimon. Ryan Gosling portrayed Stephen. There was a major addition to the plot at the end of the movie which did expand the scope and political impact of the plot. However, for the most part, the screenplay closely mirrors the play, and transfers large chunks of dialogue from stage to screen. There is a portentousness and slow pace to the film. There is also the static quality which comes from transposing a play to the screen. The production is handsome, the excellent cast is in good form, and the added material is valuable. Yet, the play is faster paced, more engrossing, and more fun. Both the play and the movie are worth our attention.)

Perfectly timed for this fall's elections, Premiere Stages' Farragut North is energetic, engrossing and informative. It could mitigate against the worship of professional politicians by dewy eyed young people. This is reason enough in and of itself to especially recommend it for young adult audiences.

Farragut North continues performances (Evenings: Thursday - Saturday 8 pm/ Saturday - Sunday 3 pm) through September 23, 2012, at the Zella Fry Theatre in the Vaughn Eames Building on the campus of Kean University, 1000 Morris Avenue, Union, NJ 07083; Box Office: 908-737-7469; online: www.kean.edu/premierestages/

Farragut North by Beau Willimon; directed by Michael Barakiva

Cast
Stephen…………….Philip Mills
Ida………………..Roya Shanks
Paul…………….Paul Bernardo
Ben……………..Steven Carter
Molly……………..Cara Ganski
Tom…………….Steven Hauck
Waiter/Frank..Erick Gonzalez


Photo: Roy Groething


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- Bob Rendell



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