By Ethlie Ann Vare
North Hollywood, California (The Hollywood Times) 10/16/2022 – “They say we’re bad in Hollywood, but politics is worse,” says director Peter Allas about his new production of Beau Willimon’s Farragut North. “This could as easily be William Morris and ICM.”
Of course, Hollywood doesn’t have the power to actually declare war, so the stakes of an Iowa Caucus campaign are a little higher than battling over weekend box-office. Still, both engender lethal backstabbing and powermongering, and attract the same sort of people: Whip-smart, incredibly competitive, and a bit too willing to sacrifice their souls.
The mid-term election cycle is an interesting time to mount Willimon’s award-winning 2008 play. It came out in a more optimistic time, before Willimon created the deeply dark and cynical House of Cards. We were all more West Wing then, believers that politics could make a difference in people’s lives. In a way, the disillusionment of these characters tracks the disillusionment of the whole country.
When we meet Stephen Bellamy (Chris King Wong), he’s an optimistic young campaign communications director, convinced that his team can elevate Governor Morris, a true man of the people, into the White House. Campaign manager Paul Zara (Michael Rubenstone) may be a jaded political hack, but Stephen is a knight in shining armor. Sure, maybe Stephen has to tell some white lies to New York Times political reporter Ida Horowitz (Amy Motta), but it’s all in service to Making the World a Better Place.
Until slowly it’s all in service to Stephen himself, and his career, and winning at any cost. There’s an offer from opposition campaign manager, the deliciously sleazy Tom Duffy (Jack Esformes), that isn’t entirely on the up-and-up. “That’s illegal,” says Stephen. “It’s sort of the thing Republicans do.” “I’ve seen way too many Democrats bite the dust because they wouldn’t get down in the mud with the elephants,” responds Tom.
Then there’s the attractive young — very young — intern Molly (Camryn Hamm), that he really shouldn’t meet in his hotel room… should he? And staff wunderkind, Ben (K.J. Powell) who can’t be allowed to outshine Stephen, right?
Beau Willimon knows what he’s talking about when he enters these smoke-filled back rooms — no longer technically filled with smoke, now that campaign manager Paul chews tobacco. Willimon himself was a boy wonder in politics back to when worked as an intern on Howard Dean’s presidential run. He wrote speeches for President Bill Clinton and Senator Chuck Schumer. The dialog feels real because it is real. It hurts to watch Stephen go from young idealist to what he himself calls “a bad person.”
Kudos to Chris King Wong as Stephen, a role played by Chris Pine when Farragut North was mounted at the Geffen Playhouse and by Ryan Gosling when it was adapted as the movie Ides of March. He has to take Stephen from bright-eyed dreamer to hard-eyed cynic over the course of two acts, and it’s particularly impressive as this was the TV actor’s first stage role. Veterans Rubernstone and Esformes handle the quick, smart banter with ease, and Amy Motta is a standout as the take-no-bullshit journalist.
Director Allas had the clever idea to use campaign TV ads instead of interstitial music for scene changes, and LBJ’s 1964 “Daisy Ad” with its warning of nuclear armageddon still has impact. (George W. Bush ragging on a sailboarding John Kerry, not so much.) Introductory music used campaign songs from George Washington through Barack Obama., which was fascinating.
Staging was simple and economical, and the 75-seat Rosalie stage is a pleasant room which was sadly only about half full, even on opening night. I know some people are still worried about going to live performances, but if we don’t support local theater, it won’t be there to support when we come back. This is a terrific play well performed. Give it a shot.
Foursome Productions presents Farragut North
Written by Beau Willimon
Directed by Peter Allas
Starring Chris King Wong, Camryn Hamm, Jack Esformes, Amy Motta, K.J. Powell, David-Edward Reyes, Michael Rubenstone
Produced by Michael Donovan and Peter Allas
5112 Lankershim Blvd
North Hollywood, CA
Through Nov. 5