As we are already being inundated with Presidential election punditry, Chestnut Hill’s Stagecrafters has made the interesting choice to mount Beau Willimon’s taut political dramedy FARRAGUT NORTH as their 2014-2015 season opener. Directed by Jane Toczek, this 2008 critical success runs in their historic Germantown Avenue theatre from September 18—October 4, 2014.
Willimon, a Virginia native, volunteered for Charles Schumer’s Senate campaign in 1998 (barely out of college). Subsequently, he had jobs working for Bill Bradley, Hillary Clinton and Howard Dean. After the “Yaaooww” heard round the world that caused Dean’s run to implode, Willimon enrolled in grad school at Julliard, receiving both the Lila Acheson Wallace Playwriting Fellowship and the Lincoln Center Le Compte du Nuoy award. It was during this time that he wrote FARRAGUT NORTH, inspired by his experiences with the Dean campaign in 2004. The play premiered Off-Broadway in 2008; a film adaptation (renamed The Ides of March) was made in 2011, directed by George Clooney.
The story picks up in Iowa just before their caucus; we meet Stephen Bellamy, a very young, very brash press secretary for an up and coming candidate. He and campaign manager, Paul Zara, are swapping war stories with a reporter from the New York Times, Ida Horowicz. And we’re in for lots of wheeling and dealing that unfolds over a 48 hour period. Willimon’s script is interesting, though he falls back on “F-bombs” excessively—that isn’t the only way to add grit and verisimilitude to a story. Yet, in spite of some moments of predictability, FARRAGUT NORTH is an intriguing look behind the scenes of modern politics. And I have to say, it’s disturbing…
Anchoring the cast as the boy wonder spin-doctor is David Pica in the role of Stephen. Pica has great presence onstage and shows a nice balance of charm and chutzpah that gets the audience liking Stephen. Jerry Curran matches him as campaign manager Paul, leading the audience to see an idealist, then surprising us with the turn his character takes. As Ida Horowitz, Michele S. Scutti does a good job of portraying a ball-busting reporter who will do anything for a scoop. Jackie DiFerdinando, a recent Temple grad, holds her own with this more experienced cast as the campaign intern Molly Pearson. Rounding out this solid ensemble are Jeff Hunsicker as Ben Fowles (Stephen’s assistant), Joe Herman as Tom Duffy (the opponent’s campaign manager) and Drew Seltzer in the dual roles of Frank (Paul’s aide) and a down-on-his-luck waiter. The waiter’s Act II monologue represents all of the myriad issues Americans are struggling with as the politicians concentrate on staying in office and the rich get richer.
The Stagecrafters tech team has turned in some clever design work, including a simple yet multi- purpose set by Richard Stewart. It was fun watching the transformations between each scene—I just wish the crew had been a tad faster. Gilbert Todd has done a great job lighting the piece, and the soundscape by Bill Bansbach worked well—I liked the juxtaposition of homey banjo music against the scheming in the story. The costuming by Joan Blake, Janet Gilmore and Janine Lieberman suits each character nicely, and Susan Rosenberg-Flagg and Elyse Brier have created lovely hair and make-up.
Jane Toczek’s direction is assured and intelligent, pacing the production nicely. In her director’s note, she discusses her own experiences serving as an aide to a number of Congressmen, so clearly she has more than a passing knowledge of the subject matter. I’m sure her insights were invaluable to the actors as they explored this piece. Everyone’s commitment to the story was very evident onstage.
FARRAGUT NORTH gets its title from the name of one of the stops on the DC Metro line—it is the station nearest to the offices of the area’s think tanks, lobbyists and other assorted advocacy groups. One of the play’s characters mentions it as the place where former campaign workers and political aides end up after their time with a particular political figure—and it isn’t in a flattering way. As I was enjoying the performance, I found myself pondering our political process. Is what we have now what the Founding Fathers intended? I always like it when a play gets me thinking—or challenges my beliefs. Beau Willimon’s FARRAGUT NORTH certainly does that—yet there’s great comedy in the play as well. Head over to Stagecrafters and see for yourselves—I know you’ll be highly entertained.
by Beau Willimon
Directed by Jane Toczek
8130 Germantown Ave.
Philadelphia, PA 19118
Sept. 18—Oct. 4, 2014