Role Players started its 25th season with Vidal's somewhat jaundiced view of the political system and the lengths that candidates will go to become president.
Director Sue Trigg starts the show off with a clever use of multi-media, broadcasting a "press conference" featuring candidate William Russell (Richard Aiello) on a pair of screens to either side of the darkened stage.
Once the conference is over the screens go dark, and the lights come up on a hotel room. In comes the candidate, along with campaign manager Dick Jensen (Daniel Brown) and the show is off and running.
The main plot centers on Russell's campaign for president against Joe Cantwell (Jim Janisch). The men have contradictory styles, mirroring to some degree the current state of our presidential campaign. Both candidates are at their party's national convention and awaiting their nomination.
Adding to the tension is lame duck President Arthur Hockstader (Dean Creighton). Hockstader is courting both candidates for his endorsement but plays coy as to whom he would select to be the next president.
"The Best Man" is a fascinating portrayal of what happens behind the scenes in a presidential campaign and the deals and tricks that candidates play to get to the White House.
Despite some minor pacing issues and a few incidents of unfortunate blocking, the show carried off very well on opening night last Friday, with the characters meshing together with energy. Creighton in particular does a fine job of playing the aging President, a man who sees the end of his political life coming and does what he can to safeguard his country's future.
The scenes with Janisch and Aiello show solid acting, with each man playing off the other with grace and aplomb. The pair does a fine job of ratcheting up the tension between them without ever giving rise to anger or shouting. Daniel Brown worked perfectly in these scenes as well, his character of Dick Jensen supporting his sometimes overly noble candidate, but never taking his eye off the prize.
In supporting roles, both Beth Chastain and Kristie Maloney worked well on the stage as Alice Russell and Mabel Cantwell. One of the best scenes in the show mirrored the animosity and tension between the two candidates as reflected by their mates.
As Mrs. Gamadge, Janice Fuller lit up the scenes she shared with the other actors. Fuller played Gamadge as the Elder Stateswoman of the convention, a sort of dowager aunt who tells both the candidates how they should be running their campaigns if they want "the women" voting their way.
Kudos to Tom Leone in the role of Cantwell campaign manager Don Blades and Doug Guyon as Sheldon Marcus. Both men showed an excellent sense of timing and delivery during two key scenes in the show.
As mentioned before, Director Sue Trigg utilized multi-media to highlight aspects of the show. In addition, the audience was treated to audio clips from past presidential campaigns as a means of transitioning from one scene to the next. Rather than the traditional "blackout," Trigg provided the distraction while sets were being changed and actors took their places.
"The Best Man" provides a witty yet uncompromising view of the life of a politician and what it takes to make it to the top. Picking this show as the premiere show of the new season was a risky move on the part of Role Players, but with the performances turned in by the actors it certainly seems to have paid off.