Ironicschmoozer’s Weblog

“The Best Man” — 1960 Tony-winning play by Gore Vidal, at my church’s community theater

At last Friday’s opening of The Best Man, the UUSS playhouse had the highest opening-night energy level in my recollection.  Gore Vidal’s political drama was presented by my church’s 51-year-old community theater group, Theater One.   Roberta Stewart, here since the early years, is the director.  We have a number of experienced community-theater actors, some fairly new to the stage (or returning after a long interim since high school or college theater), and some members with professional experience on stage and screen. They are a dedicated team!

For me the play is a blast from the past of political history.  I was born in 1961, when it won some Tony Awards but lost the  Best Play prize to The Miracle Worker.  A Sacramento News and Review writer says it’s Gore Vidal’s best play.  It’s about a battle for the presidential nomination of an unnamed political party in 1960, but that was in the era of party-convention drama, smoked-filled room dealings, and last minute changes.   Nowadays, nominees usually have their delegates sewn up well before the convention, which is more of a coronation and PR occasion than a business meeting.  Few platform or campaign positions are determined now at conventions.  I can’t think we are better off, with SuperPACS (thanks to the Citizens United court ruling), bundling of campaign donations, and big-money and TV commercials determining decisions about the last man standing (still it’s a man, alas).

(If you want to read more–and weep–about the undermining of our democracy, check out Thomas Frank’s essay in the April 2012 Harper’s Magazine.  It’s not online yet, but you can get the gist of it from this blurb about his new book, Pity the Billionaire.)

  Now back to the show:

The lighting and sound design were well-planned and effective, and the set was evocative of the hotel suites where so much wheeling and dealing used to take place, while delegates haggled on the convention floor or perhaps hung out in the nearby taverns of an unfamiliar city.  (But no TGIF chain, Chili’s or Hooter’s in 1960.)   The leads in the cast really looked (and dressed) their parts, evoking both the public persona and the vulnerability, venality and some strong convictions that lurked behind the roles: candidates, political wives, king-makers, press corps members, and an ailing, plain-spoken, lame-duck president. As a nighttime worker  here in my minister’s office, I know they worked long and hard, and with creative thoughtfulness, to make it happen.

The drama is engaging, and Vidal’s humor a delight to hear.  On opening night, pauses in some of the dialogue kept the show from having as much dramatic energy as the script contains, but actors stayed in character and covered for one another when necessary, and after that first show I am confident they have picked up the pace.   Perhaps it would serve us well to have a discounted “preview” night for future plays, as happens in professional theater.  That way the audience would expect that there are a few bugs to work out, but we’d have an audience for the energy it gives back to the performers, which helps them in fine tuning for a later show.  Then opening night could be the next night.

This play is an excellent choice for this political year; Broadway agrees, for the revival of the play will open April 1 in NYC.   I might like to see it if I visit friends there in July, but I was happy to have a front-row seat at my church for 1/10th  of the cost of a Broadway show.  (No tickets here are more than $14.) We had a new feature, organized by our PR chairperson:  an opening-night gala reception before curtain, including dry wines poured by our own “Sweet” winemaker.  The snacks lasted through the intermission and I snagged a final slice of cheese after the show.  (The reception was free, because selling wine and beer costs more than it brings in, given the county alcohol-sales permit you have to buy for every event.)

It’s an enjoyable experience for a pastor to watch a great play presented by a cast and crew whom he knows and loves, and Friday night there were plenty of church friends and relatives in the crowd, among others, who also enjoyed the show.

I am grateful to Bobby, cast and crew for introducing me to this play, and providing a live and lively experience of it.

I recommend it!

1 Comment so far
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Roger, thank you for your support and the kind review!

Comment by Gina

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