Politics is one of those topics that can seem boring on the surface, but once you learn what's really going on, it becomes a riveting, infuriating soap opera. Playwright Beau Willimon knows this well, and he has written a wonderful political tale, "Farragut North", that is now playing at the Unicorn.
The obscure title says almost nothing about what the play is about (Farragut North is a metro station in Washington, D.C., in the middle of the lobbyist district), but the play is a sarcastic, profanity-laden, insider look at a presidential campaign -- it is (supposedly) loosely based on the 2004 presidential campaign of Democrat Howard Dean.
Instead of focusing on the presidential candidate himself, or even on the campaign manager, the play tells the story of Stephen, a 25-year-old ambitious campaign worker who rides his precocious talent into the role of press secretary for a governor who is running for president. Stephen is good at his job, and he knows it.
However, Stephen may not be quite ready for the rigors of a presidential campaign. Obstacles ranging from a nubile teenage intern, to an equally ambitious New York Times reporter, to a surprise message from the opposition�s campaign threaten to cause upheaval. Stephen quickly discovers the limits of his talent, ambition � and loyalty.
The cast for this show is quite good. Mark Thomas, as Stephen, has a good mixture of charisma and arrogance, and his portrayal of the path through the minefield of politics is believable. Bruce Roach plays the campaign manager, Paul, a weary but steeled man who takes the hits of a campaign better than Stephen does. Manon Halliburton is the Times reporter, Ida, and she presents the audience with a character no less cynical than the subjects on which she reports. Sam Cordes is the young, innocent wannabe-politician who attempts to follow in Stephen's footsteps. He should have had a bigger role.
Two surprising standout performances, however, are Kat Endsley and Robert Elliot. Endsley plays the teenage intern, Molly, and really nails the innocent, idealistic youth who has her own campaign to wage. Elliott was amazing as Tom Duffy, the manager of the opposing campaign. To see him slouch in his chair, carrying the weight of the future of the nation, the bone-weary tone in his voice, the regretful nonchalance with which he makes his decisions, this is one of the best performances I've seen in a long time.
"Farragut North" manages to weave in almost all the clich'd campaign events, sex with interns, Internet gossip, illegal back-room dealing, double-crosses, questionable ethics, and enough event-spinning that would make a real press secretary proud. It is intelligent, funny, and infused with genuine drama, while avoiding the melodrama that such topics can easily fall into.
For a show that will make you feel like you really learned something about the real America (even if it isn't exactly nice), just head on up to "Farragut North".
Farragut North runs through Dec. 13 at the Unicorn Theatre, 3828 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. Tickets can be purchased at the box office, by calling 816-531-PLAY or at www.unicorntheatre.org.
(photo: Kat Endsley as Molly and Mark Thomas as Stephen. Photo by Cynthia Levin.)

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