Also see John's review of 1776
Set in 1960-1962, Dirty Business is the fact-based story of a young Irish-Catholic Senator named Jack running for President of the United States. His father Joe persuades Jack's close friend Frank (a famous singer and movie star) to help get Jack elected. Frank has friends in organized crime, and a Chicago-based capo di tutti (boss of all bosses) named Sam is a pal with pull. Jack needs to win Illinois and West Virginia to win the Presidency. Both states can be won with the right push from union members, and Sam has the unions in his pocket. The trouble is that Jack cannot afford to have anyone know that Sam has had a part of any of this. In fact, he plans to have his brother Bobby go after Sam and his mob friends to cover up the relationship.
In the middle of all of this is a pretty party girl named Judy who was once one of Frank's girls. Judy ends up having affairs with both Jack and Sam at the same time, and they both use her to gain information about the other.
While the author pointedly never uses anyone's last names, it is clear we are seeing the story of John F. Kennedy, Sam Giancana, Judith Campbell and Frank Sinatra. The subject matter is historically fascinating, and the opening of this play, about the shady way in which an election is won, is perfectly timed with our 2008 Presidential election.
When an acator is portraying a real-life person of great notoriety, it is difficult to determine whether to imitate or simply capture the essence of the original character. Gordon McConnell is really quite wonderful as Sam. He so transforms himself into this character, that one could easily see him doing a one-man show portraying Sam Giancana. Jack Gwaltney captures the essence of Frank Sinatra. This is not Frank the movie star, but Frank as the man thrown into a puzzling situation by his friendships and loyalties.
Elizabeth A. Davis is lovely and sweet as Judy, and is beautifully costumed by Suzette Pare. One cannot help but wonder, however, why three such famous men would line up for and share this one particular woman when they could have whomever they wanted. Dan Leonard is a bit off as Joe Kennedy. While he captures the determination and drive of the man, he misses his fire and temper. Joe Kennedy was a hard drinking, quick thinking, womanizing man's man. Leonard seems to portray Joe as an intellectual man more at home in a boardroom than a barroom. James Lloyd Reynolds cuts a fine figure as Jack, and gives us a nice glimpse of John Kennedy with all of his flaws. Like Gwaltney, he captures the essence of his character, though he sorely needs to work on his Boston accent as he only holds onto it about 20% of the time.
Some of the dialogue assigned to Jack is simply more cerebral and flowery than the real John Kennedy would ever have spoken in the privacy of his own rooms. It therefore feels false. Other scenes, such as the one in which Sam first meets Judy, go on long after the point is made. Near the end of the second act, it appears that the author suddenly realized a need to trim the play, and awkwardly tries to wrap it up in a scene in which Judy stands mid-stage while Jack and Sam repeatedly walk on and off through curtains that seem to get in the way. Through no fault of the actors, this play is tedious despite the good subject matter and at 2 hours and 40 minutes is just too long.
Dirty Business will be appearing at Florida Stage through November 30, 2008. The theater is located in Plaza del Mar, at 262 S. Ocean Blvd. in Manalapan. Florida Stage is a professional theater, with extensive programs for young artists, hiring Equity and non-Equity performers from across the United States. Florida Stage is a member of the Theatre Communications Group, the League of Resident Theatres, the Florida Professional Theatre Association, the National Alliance for Musical Theatre, and the National New Play Network.
Performance days/times are normally Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 8:00 pm; Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons at 2:00 pm; and Sundays at 7:00 pm. Tickets and other information may be obtained by calling the box office at (561) 585-3433 or (800) 514-3833, or contacting them online at www.floridastage.org.
* Designates member of Actors' Equity Association: the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.
** Designates member of the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers.
+Designates member of the United Scenic Artists.