By: Beau Willimon
Directed by: Doug Hughes
With: Chris Pine, Chris Noth
June 24 - July 26, 2009
It is not necessary to be a political junkie to understand what is happening on stage at the Geffen Playhouse and it is kind of fun. In Farragut North, playwright Beau Willimon, a political junkie in recovery or at least on sabbatical, gives us a peak at the dirty backroom secrets of presidential campaigning. Willimon worked on Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton's senate campaigns as well as Howard Dean's failed campaign for president so there is face validity to what is happening on stage.
Like West Wing, Farragut North is adrenaline charged. Chris Pine is the good looking, twenty five year old hotshot press secretary, Stephen, fueling his candidate's Idaho caucus primary campaign for president. He is slick and self confident, sitting in a bar booth with Ben (Dan Bittner) the twenty year old assistant whose role is to Idolize Stephen (while keeping his own agenda upper most in his mind); Paul (Chris Noth), the older, crude, disheveled head of the campaign; and Ida (Mia Barron) the New York Times reporter who is oh so comfortable hanging out with the campaign operatives. Make no mistake, she is in it for juicy tidbits to fuel her own career; Stephen uses her as manipulatively as she uses him. Actually, every one uses every one else -- at top speed -- to his own advantage. There is no common good. Luscious intern, Molly, just old enough not to be jailbait, waltzes by to deliver something. It does not take Sherlock Holmes to figure out that sooner or later she is going to be trouble in tight jeans. Henry Kissinger may have let us in on the fact that politics is the ultimate aphrodisiac, but those jeans have their own power.
Make no mistake, political campaigns are the place for adrenaline junkies. If there is a problem with Willimon's insider view it is that he has put it forth at the unwearyingly clipped pace and sketchy character development of a sitcom. No one, West Wing not withstanding, processes at that velocity. Only campaign chief, Paul, looking terribly burnt out, but not dead yet, shows the strains of the campaign. Noth's performance is an astounding contrast to the smooth and alluring Big, whom he played in Sex and the City, enough of a transformation as to render him unrecognizable for the first few minutes. He is disheveled, overweight, crude, and taking a multitude of medications just to keep his body going.
About all we learn regarding the unseen candidate is that he is a Democrat. In a clandestine meeting at one more seedy bar, Tom Duffy, campaign chief of another aspiring Democratic candidate tries to lure Stephen over to his team by detailing some dirty tricks his campaign has pulled off that will leave Stephen's candidate in the dirt. Would Stephen want to be on the losing side? Think about it, and Stephen does. If the phrase "dirty tricks" does not spring to mind you have been sticking too much to the sports section. Just in case you have missed the point, Stephen marvels aloud how much what Duffy has laid out resembles the actions of Republicans. No issues are ever alluded to, this is a dog eat dog competition with issues buried in the dirt. The title, Farragut North, refers to a major D.C. subway stop not far from such political sideshows such as K Street, the hood of lobbyists. In this case working there is drudgery and symbolic of falling from campaign grace.
How Stephen falls from grace, I will leave to the audience to discover. It is not unanticipated but from the standpoint of a story arc quite satisfying. Farragut North is entertaining and well acted, if not illuminating or provocative. A little more substance would not have hurt.