Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Vidal's 1960 Politics Tale Gets Entertaining Revival

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Vidal's 1960 Politics Tale Gets Entertaining Revival

Article excerpt

In "The Best Man," Gore Vidal's droll 1960 morality play about the race for a presidential nomination, the aged former president, Artie Hockstader (James Earl Jones), is enraptured by the behind- the-scenes intrigue.

He's dying, but the desperate maneuvering and dirty dealing are like a tonic, bringing back a taste of what he loves about politics.

The audience might have some of the same delighted feeling at this enormously entertaining revival, which opened Sunday at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre.

The stage is filled with stars, but the one who makes the evening go is John Larroquette, playing candidate William Russell, a former secretary of state who knows he should keep his quirky, intellectual style under wraps, but can't help himself from doing things such as quoting Martin Luther.

In the game of identification, Russell is Adlai Stevenson, but Larroquette creates such a distinctive individual you needn't ever have heard of the 1950s Democratic candidate to appreciate his characterization.

Gore has given Russell all the witty lines, and the actor delivers them with an amusing dryness and distance that suggests the candidate is participating in his chosen profession while also wryly watching himself go at it.

He's polite and deferential to the "chairman of the Women's Division," who advises him, at length, about what women want, including seeing his wife, from whom he's long been quietly estranged - because of his serial cheating - on the campaign trail.

Delightfully played by Angela Lansbury, the woman natters on, while Larroquette, barely moving a muscle, silently lets us know of the disdain percolating just beneath the surface.

Russell's rival for the nomination, Sen. Joseph Cantwell (Eric McCormack), might have been inspired by Richard Nixon, but you can substitute the current candidate of your choice.

A working-class boy who's hustled his way to the top, a loyal wife at his side, he'll do anything to win, including changing his views depending on poll numbers, invoking God at every opportunity and blackmailing Russell to get him to drop out of the race just as the nominating convention is about to begin. The question becomes: Will the principled Russell fight back by smearing Cantwell? …

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