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TO SEE OR NOT TO SEE: “The Best Man”

April 10th, 2012

Angela Lansbury & Candice Bergen in "The Best Man". Photo by Joan Marcus.

The Best Man

Gore Vidal’s 1960 behind-the-scenes drama, about a contested political convention, campaigns for another shot at Broadway with a cast of big names including John Larroquette, Angela Lansbury, James Earl Jones and Candice Bergen.

“Unfortunately a thin veneer of currency isn’t sufficient to revitalize a drama that feels positively quaint, despite Mr. Vidal’s winking cynicism about the political arena and his undeniable prescience about future trends in American politicking.” New York Times

“Gore Vidal’s 1960 chestnut may center on three powerful male politicians, but it’s the ladies hovering on the periphery who steal this new Broadway revival.” New York Post

“Far from being dated, this profoundly cynical play could be the universal blueprint for any political election, especially in Michael Wilson’s classy production top lined by…thesps to die for.” Variety

“Vidal’s play remains remarkably well-constructed (and the cast will doubtless improve the pacing, which moseys occasionally, as they grow into their roles).” Entertainment Weekly

Mizer’s Two Cents: This is an entertaining trip back to the days of American Boulevard Theater, when Broadway meant a reasonably-priced night out, recognizable stars and a tastefully intelligent, if not ground-breaking, play. The dialogue is crisply tart, the play is structurally appealing (if a little too gently paced in this production) and Vidal’s political insights ring just as true today as they must have in 1960. The stars are almost uniformly solid and well-cast with James Earl Jones providing much-appreciated gusto and Candice Bergen effectively channeling her low key intelligence to win laughs and a little pathos as a less-than-enthused political wife. And, in two shorts scenes, the delicious Angela Lansbury is still a pro, wringing laughs with only a perfectly timed glare or a prim sip from a bottle of coke.

The question comes down to whether you can afford to spend 2012 Broadway prices for a script that today would end up being a particularly solid episode of The West Wing. That’s not a slight; it’s just a reflection of where this style of good writing and performing ends up today. Personally, I enjoyed stepping back in time and I’m glad I saw it. See it if you’re a fan of the stars and want to catch them live, are a history/politics junky or you enjoy Vidal’s wit. [And try these discount codes to bring it all to a more palatable if not 1960 price.]

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