Entertainment » Theatre

The Best Man

by Winnie McCroy
EDGE Editor
Monday Aug 6, 2012
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John Stamos, Corey Brill and John Larroquette in "The Best Man"
John Stamos, Corey Brill and John Larroquette in "The Best Man"   (Source:Joan Marcus)

In the wake of Gore Vidal’s recent death, seeing a new cast tackle the revival currently running on Broadway of his most famous play "The Best Man" takes on a special resonance.

The play tracks a fictional 1960 political convention in Philadelphia to decide the party’s presidential nominee. The race pits a stalwart secretary of state (John LarIn the wake of Gore Vidal’s recent death, seeing a new cast tackle the revival currently running on Broadway of his most famous play "The Best Man" takes on a special resonance.

The play tracks a fictional 1960 political convention in Philadelphia to decide the party’s presidential nominee. The race pits a stalwart secretary of state (John Larroquette) against an ambitious up-and-coming senator (John Stamos).

The brash young upstart will do anything to win, even ferret out and exaggerate a minor nervous breakdown in his opponent’s past. But when the secret of his own alleged homosexual dalliance while in the Army (and the spate of Section 8 discharges surrounding it) threatens to be made public, all bets are off.

James Earl Jones gives an amazing, larger-than-life performance as former President Arthur "Artie" Hockstader, a red-blooded type who loves his bourbon and water, and just happens to be dying of "cancer of the innards." The color-blind casting of Jones as a pre-Civil Rights era president would be applauded, if it were even an issue. But in this unrivaled actor’s capable hands, the role of a dying man about to offer his deathbed endorsement is beautiful, nuanced and elevates all near it.

Sitcom star-turned-Broadway regular John Larroquette also does an admirable job as Secretary of State William Russell, an erudite, witty, ethical, patriotic man working to secure the first-string nomination. As his exasperated campaign manager, Dick Jensen reprises the slightly sleazy but overall apathetic character he portrayed in films like "Desperately Seeking Susan," "Blind Date" and "Crocodile Dundee." Corey Brill gives an even sleazier portrayal of Don Blades, the competition’s PR man.

Although it’s great to see her getting work, Cybill Shepard is miscast as Russell’s distant, put-upon wife. As brittle blondes go, Candice Bergen in the earlier run was the more logical choice and fulfilled the role more successfully.

Her husband has no qualms about admitting that he no longer desires her, and she accepts this stoically but does not reciprocate those feelings. Instead, she has to endure an endless round of "hen parties" with Mrs. Sue-Ellen Gamade, chairman of the party’s Women’s Division, gamely played with a swell Southern accent by Elizabeth Ashley.

Shepard only really shines when she gets to show her backbone and give back a little sass. As this nutty actress proved in her Golden Globe-winning and Emmy-nominated TV hits "Moonlighting" and "Cybill," upbeat quip-and-return banter is more her métier than playing the political hausfrau.

As Senator Joseph Cantwell, a George W. Bush-type, ambitious striver, John Stamos brings out the dramatic tensions as a man in a well-fitted blue suit who doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke, professes (loudly and often) his belief in Jesus Christ and the possibility of everlasting salvation but reacts a bit too close to the bone when forced to explain away a scandalous rumor of homosexuality during his Army days.

When President Hockstader stops by Cantwell’s hotel suite to tell the upstart that he has won the endorsement, Cantwell’s brash habit of trying to "kill a bug with a cannon" disenchants the former POTUS, who withdraws his support.

In the role of Cantwell’s wife Mabel, Kristin Davis gamely plays the supportive "good Christian bitch" whose kittenish panty and camisole tops and ruffled silk robes conceal a martini-swilling, charming underminer. Mabel knows how to toe the line her husband has set, particularly when it comes to demolishing the opposition through unfounded character assassinations.

One of the show’s high points is the catfight when Shepard’s character challenges Mabel’s saccharine-coated insults about her husband with a few well-pointed barbs.

It’s gratifying to see that Davis has join her "Sex in the City" gal pals Cynthia Nixon (in "Wit," among others) and Kim Cattrall (in "Private Lives"). Sarah Jessica Parker remains the sole "square peg" in the round hole of Broadway. (Maybe she can rev up husband Matthew Broderick’s leaden dancing in "Nice Work if You Can Get It.")

Speaking of brittle wives, it’s entirely appropriate to see Donna Hanover, who was so publicly ousted as New York’s first lady via the wandering eye of Mayor Rudy Giuliani, in a show that shines a light on the public faces and private tears of political wives. Here, she plays a no-nonsense lady reporter -- a witty casting choice, since she was well known in New York as a broadcaster before marrying Giuliani. She doubles in a role as Sen. Cantwell’s mother.

Vidal knows how to keep the pace going as quickly as a TV anchor’s patter. Reporters let the questions fly, insults go back and forth like a tennis ball, and President Hocksteder has to choose between an ambitious man with no moral center and a cautious, lackluster career diplomat driven by public service but lacking the will to win office.

Kudos go to the set designer, Derek McLane, for his innovative design that finds the two sides of the stage folding in on each other to become a drawing room or hotel suite, with armchairs and tables sliding across stage to their mark. His use of part of the balcony seating for an old-timey newsroom where commentator John Malcolm (Sherman Howard) ushers us into the action is kitschy but unusual.

Reviving "The Best Man" in an election year was a canny choice. Although Vidal’s play is set in 1960, his lessons about the lengths to which candidates will stoop to achieve their goals is so prescient, it’s scary.

"The Best Man" finishes its run on September 9 at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater, 236 W. 45th St. For info or tickets, call 212-239-6200 or visit geraldschoenfeld.theaternyc.org/
oquette) against an ambitious up-and-coming senator (John Stamos).

The brash young upstart will do anything to win, even ferret out and exaggerate a minor nervous breakdown in his opponent’s past. But when the secret of his own alleged homosexual dalliance while in the Army (and the spate of Section 8 discharges surrounding it) threatens to be made public, all bets are off.

James Earl Jones gives an amazing, larger-than-life performance as former President Arthur "Artie" Hockstader, a red-blooded type who loves his bourbon and water, and just happens to be dying of "cancer of the innards." The color-blind casting of Jones as a pre-Civil Rights era president would be applauded, if it were even an issue. But in this unrivaled actor’s capable hands, the role of a dying man about to offer his deathbed endorsement is beautiful, nuanced and elevates all near it.

Sitcom star-turned-Broadway regular John Larroquette also does an admirable job as Secretary of State William Russell, an erudite, witty, ethical, patriotic man working to secure the first-string nomination. As his exasperated campaign manager, Dick Jensen reprises the slightly sleazy but overall apathetic character he portrayed in films like "Desperately Seeking Susan," "Blind Date" and "Crocodile Dundee." Corey Brill gives an even sleazier portrayal of Don Blades, the competition’s PR man.

Although it’s great to see her getting work, Cybill Shepard is miscast as Russell’s distant, put-upon wife. As brittle blondes go, Candice Bergen in the earlier run was the more logical choice and fulfilled the role more successfully.

Her husband has no qualms about admitting that he no longer desires her, and she accepts this stoically but does not reciprocate those feelings. Instead, she has to endure an endless round of "hen parties" with Mrs. Sue-Ellen Gamade, chairman of the party’s Women’s Division, gamely played with a swell Southern accent by Elizabeth Ashley.

Shepard only really shines when she gets to show her backbone and give back a little sass. As this nutty actress proved in her Golden Globe-winning and Emmy-nominated TV hits "Moonlighting" and "Cybill," upbeat quip-and-return banter is more her metier than playing the political hausfrau.

As Senator Joseph Cantwell, a George W. Bush-type, ambitious striver, John Stamos brings out the dramatic tensions as a man in a well-fitted blue suit who doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke, professes (loudly and often) his belief in Jesus Christ and the possibility of everlasting salvation but reacts a bit too close to the bone when forced to to explain away a scandalous rumor of homosexuality during his Army days.

John Stamos does a wonderful job as Senator Joseph Cantwell, an ambitious striver in a well-fitted suit who doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke, believes in Jesus Christ and his salvation, and is a bit too quick to explain away a gay Army scandal.

When President Hockstader stops by Cantwell’s hotel suite to tell the upstart that he has won the endorsement, Cantwell’s brash habit of trying to "kill a bug with a cannon" disenchants the former POTUS, who withdraws his support.

In the role of Cantwell’s wife Mabel, Kristin Davis gamely plays the supportive "good Christian bitch" whose kittenish panty and camisole tops and ruffled silk robes conceal a martini-swilling, charming underminer. Mabel knows how to toe the line her husband has set, particularly when it comes to demolishing the opposition through unfounded character assassinations.

One of the show’s high points is the cat fight when Shepard’s character challenges Mabel’s saccharine-coated insults about her husband with a few well-pointed barbs.

It’s gratifying to see that Davis has join her "Sex in the City" gal pals Cynthia Nixon (in "Wit," among others) and Kim Cattrall (in "Private Lives"). Sarah Jessica Parker remains the sole "square peg" in the round hole of Broadway. (Maybe she can rev up husband Matthew Broderick’s leaden dancing in "Nice Work if You Can Get It.")

Speaking of brittle wives, it’s entirely appropriate to see Donna Hanover, who was so publicly ousted as New York’s first lady via the wandering eye of Mayor Rudy Giuliani, in a show that shines a light on the public faces and private tears of political wives. Here, she plays a no-nonsense lady reporter -- a witty casting choice, since she was well known in New York as a broadcaster before marrying Giuliani. She doubles in a role as Sen. Cantwell’s mother.

Vidal knows how to keep the pace going as quickly as a TV anchor’s patter. Reporters let the questions fly, insults go back and forth like a tennis ball, and President Hocksteder has to choose between an ambitious man with no moral center and a cautious, lackluster career diplomat driven by public service but lacking the will to win office.

Kudos go to the set designer, Derek McLane, for his innovative design that finds the two sides of the stage folding in on each other to become a drawing room or hotel suite, with armchairs and tables sliding across stage to their mark. His use of part of the balcony seating for an old-timey newsroom where commentator John Malcolm (Sherman Howard) ushers us into the action is kitschy but unusual.
In the wake of Gore Vidal’s recent death, seeing a new cast tackle the revival currently running on Broadway of his most famous play "The Best Man" takes on a special resonance.

The play tracks a fictional 1960 political convention in Philadelphia to decide the party’s presidential nominee. The race pits a stalwart secretary of state (John Larroquette) against an ambitious up-and-coming senator (John Stamos).

The brash young upstart will do anything to win, even ferret out and exaggerate a minor nervous breakdown in his opponent’s past. But when the secret of his own alleged homosexual dalliance while in the Army (and the spate of Section 8 discharges surrounding it) threatens to be made public, all bets are off.

James Earl Jones gives an amazing, larger-than-life performance as former President Arthur "Artie" Hockstader, a red-blooded type who loves his bourbon and water, and just happens to be dying of "cancer of the innards." The color-blind casting of Jones as a pre-Civil Rights era president would be applauded, if it were even an issue. But in this unrivaled actor’s capable hands, the role of a dying man about to offer his deathbed endorsement is beautiful, nuanced and elevates all near it.

Sitcom star-turned-Broadway regular John Larroquette also does an admirable job as Secretary of State William Russell, an erudite, witty, ethical, patriotic man working to secure the first-string nomination. As his exasperated campaign manager, Dick Jensen reprises the slightly sleazy but overall apathetic character he portrayed in films like "Desperately Seeking Susan," "Blind Date" and "Crocodile Dundee." Corey Brill gives an even sleazier portrayal of Don Blades, the competition’s PR man.

Although it’s great to see her getting work, Cybill Shepard is miscast as Russell’s distant, put-upon wife. As brittle blondes go, Candice Bergen in the earlier run was the more logical choice and fulfilled the role more successfully.

Her husband has no qualms about admitting that he no longer desires her, and she accepts this stoically but does not reciprocate those feelings. Instead, she has to endure an endless round of "hen parties" with Mrs. Sue-Ellen Gamade, chairman of the party’s Women’s Division, gamely played with a swell Southern accent by Elizabeth Ashley.

Shepard only really shines when she gets to show her backbone and give back a little sass. As this nutty actress proved in her Golden Globe-winning and Emmy-nominated TV hits "Moonlighting" and "Cybill," upbeat quip-and-return banter is more her métier than playing the political hausfrau.

As Senator Joseph Cantwell, a George W. Bush-type, ambitious striver, John Stamos brings out the dramatic tensions as a man in a well-fitted blue suit who doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke, professes (loudly and often) his belief in Jesus Christ and the possibility of everlasting salvation but reacts a bit too close to the bone when forced to explain away a scandalous rumor of homosexuality during his Army days.

When President Hockstader stops by Cantwell’s hotel suite to tell the upstart that he has won the endorsement, Cantwell’s brash habit of trying to "kill a bug with a cannon" disenchants the former POTUS, who withdraws his support.

In the role of Cantwell’s wife Mabel, Kristin Davis gamely plays the supportive "good Christian bitch" whose kittenish panty and camisole tops and ruffled silk robes conceal a martini-swilling, charming underminer. Mabel knows how to toe the line her husband has set, particularly when it comes to demolishing the opposition through unfounded character assassinations.

One of the show’s high points is the catfight when Shepard’s character challenges Mabel’s saccharine-coated insults about her husband with a few well-pointed barbs.

It’s gratifying to see that Davis has join her "Sex in the City" gal pals Cynthia Nixon (in "Wit," among others) and Kim Cattrall (in "Private Lives"). Sarah Jessica Parker remains the sole "square peg" in the round hole of Broadway. (Maybe she can rev up husband Matthew Broderick’s leaden dancing in "Nice Work if You Can Get It.")

Speaking of brittle wives, it’s entirely appropriate to see Donna Hanover, who was so publicly ousted as New York’s first lady via the wandering eye of Mayor Rudy Giuliani, in a show that shines a light on the public faces and private tears of political wives. Here, she plays a no-nonsense lady reporter -- a witty casting choice, since she was well known in New York as a broadcaster before marrying Giuliani. She doubles in a role as Sen. Cantwell’s mother.

Vidal knows how to keep the pace going as quickly as a TV anchor’s patter. Reporters let the questions fly, insults go back and forth like a tennis ball, and President Hocksteder has to choose between an ambitious man with no moral center and a cautious, lackluster career diplomat driven by public service but lacking the will to win office.

Kudos go to the set designer, Derek McLane, for his innovative design that finds the two sides of the stage folding in on each other to become a drawing room or hotel suite, with armchairs and tables sliding across stage to their mark. His use of part of the balcony seating for an old-timey newsroom where commentator John Malcolm (Sherman Howard) ushers us into the action is kitschy but unusual.

Reviving "The Best Man" in an election year was a canny choice. Although Vidal’s play is set in 1960, his lessons about the lengths to which candidates will stoop to achieve their goals is so prescient, it’s scary.

"The Best Man" finishes its run on September 9 at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater, 236 W. 45th St. For info or tickets, call 212-239-6200 or visit geraldschoenfeld.theaternyc.org/

Reviving "The Best Man" in an election year was a canny choice. Although Vidal’s play is set in 1960, his lessons about the lengths to which candidates will stoop to achieve their goals is so prescient, it’s scary.

"The Best Man" finishes its run on September 9 at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater, 236 W. 45th St. For info or tickets, call 212-239-6200 or visit geraldschoenfeld.theaternyc.org/

Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women’s news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she writes about local restaurants in her food blog, http://brooklyniscookin.blogspot.com/

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