It is too bad that someone has not written an election year play that mirrors our current political situation with some with, political savvy and a sense of melodrama. Instead, Broadway producers have once again trotted out Gore Vidal's 1960 melodrama, THE BEST MAN, with one of those all star casts that will attract an audience to see just about anything. Unfortunately what audiences are seeing are veteran actors doing their schtick, one really poor performance and a few good ones. A lot of money has been spent on the production, but little imagination.
Most of us old timers have at least seen the 1964 film of THE BEST MAN with Henry Fonda and Cliff Robertson. The setting is the 1960 political convention of a nameless party back when candidates were chosen through back room deals and floor votes (perhaps this will happen again with the Republicans this year). The winning candidate must win the support of conservatives, liberals and moderates (clearly this is not the present ultra-right wing Republican party). The two leading candidates are William Russell (John Larroquette), a middle-aged upper class Northeastern liberal, a man of principal, and a ruthless, young midwestern populist, aptly named Joe Cantwell (Eric McCormack). Cantwell will do anything to win; Russell will do anything to stop Cantwell. The two men despise each other. Russell is estranged from his wife (Candice Bergen) but she is willing to pretend to be happily married to help his campaign. Cantwell's wife (Kerry Butler) is as hungry for position and as resentful of her elite competition as her husband is. Both these men are courting the support of the retiring president (James Earl Jones), a plain speaking old time pragmatist and of the most powerful woman in the party, a dowager who claims to speak for all women (Angela Lansbury). There's a bogus homosexual scandal (very daring in 1960 but dull now).
THE BEST MAN is a creaky, old-fashioned Broadway melodrama that, frankly, isn't worth reviving. It certainly isn't worth doing in this production which is technically slick, but looks like the actors haven't been directed at all. There are some good performances. Larroquette and McCormack make the most of their roles. Michael McKean is solid as Russell's campaign manager. There is a dreadful performance by Kerry Butler who seems to think she's still in XANADU, bad accent and all. James Earl Jones flubs lines and shouts what he remembers. Candice Bergen wears great outfits and acts competently. Angela Lansbury plays a cartoon, but that's all her part is.
Like many theater buffs, I couldn't resist seeing this bunch of actors. It wasn't worth it. I'd love to see what Gore Vidal would make of our current crop of political candidates. There would be a play worth seeing.