With helicopters hovering overhead and media trucks parked in front of the UCLA Medical Center covering the tragic passing of Michael Jackson, it was press night for the Atlantic Theater Production of Beau Willimon’s Farragut North, making its West Coast premiere at the Geffen Playhouse.
An insider look at the most disgusting aspects of politics, the story revolves around Stephen Bellamy, press secretary to an unseen presidential candidate played with deep opportunist conviction by Chris Pine, and Paul Zara, campaign manager, mentor and “friend” to Stephen, played by Chris Noth, known for his portrayal of Mr. Big in Sex & the City. Exercising his acting chops, Noth gives riveting insights into just how far politicos will go to achieve their ends.
The opening scene takes place in a sleazy bar in Des Moine, Iowa and sets the stage for the dirty tricks, back stabbing, and betrayal that will follow as Stephen brags about labeling a rival candidate anti-Semitic, thereby sabotaging his campaign. This amoral young man will soon be hoisted on his own petard as he secretly meets with Tom Duffy, played with just the right amount of sleaze by Isiah Whitlock, Jr. His counterpart with the opposing candidate, Duffy offers Stephen a job “on the winning team” citing the fact that they had rigged the polls and Stephen’s candidate “is going down.” Stephen refuses the offer but is not timely in revealing this meeting to Paul and when he finally confesses, Paul accuses him of betrayal and ultimately fires him. Stephen goes back to Duffy to take him up on the job offer, but Duffy reveals that he had set him up to be fired and now has no interest in hiring him.
In the meantime, Stephen gets involved with a 19-year-old campaign worker whom, it turns out, gets off on seducing older, powerful men. The Molly character, played beautifully by Olivia Thirlby, could have used a bit more fleshing out to determine what was lying beneath her surface. The only character with any kind of a moral compass is assistant press secretary Ben, beautifully portrayed by Dan Bittner. Invisible most of the time, he does emerge victorious, at least for the moment.
Skillfully directed by Doug Hughes, the razor-sharp, quick-paced dialogue is deftly handled by this excellent ensemble which also includes Mia Barron’s New York Times reporter Ida Horowicz whose answer to Stephen is a telling moment when he says “I thought we were friends,” to which she replies, “Friends? Whatever gave you that idea?”
The production is backed up by an appropriate set design by David Korins and a driving sound design by David Van Tieghem and Walter Trarbach underscoring the growing tension. Add to that interesting political video collages by Joshua White and Bec Stupac and Catherine Zuber’s costumes and you have a visually interesting experience as well.
“Sleazy is as sleazy does,” could very easily be the tag line for this intense political drama.
The Geffen Playhouse
10886 Le Conte Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90024
through July 26
Box Office: 310.208.5454