From the C-T
Theater review: Cast your ballot for ACT’s ‘The Best Man’
TIM REID | TAKE 5 CORRESPONDENT • PUBLISHED SEPTEMBER 19, 2008 12:15 AM
ASHEVILLE — Political contests in America are not pitched battles between absolute good and evil but more nuanced struggles between somewhat flawed candidates who lie somewhere in between. That is the premise of Gore Vidal’s “The Best Man,” which, on the Asheville Community Theatre stage, seems as powerful and perceptive today as when it was written more than 40 years ago.
Jim Weyhenmeyer gives a delightfully convoluted performance as William Russell, an Adlai Stevenson-like character seeking the presidential nomination at the party convention in Philadelphia. Russell is an intellectual whose exemplary public service is belied by his private life — he chronically cheats on his long-suffering wife, Alice (Susan Fronsoe).
Russell’s hard-charging opponent Joseph Cantwell in contrast is ruthless as a politician but has a very close relationship with his opportunistic wife, Mabel (Lora Kole). Dan Clancy’s nitty-gritty portrayal of the Richard Nixon-like Cantwell conjures up every resentment of the “dirty politics” so prevalent in recent history.
The two politicians’ respective “handlers” Dick Jensen (Cory Boughton) and Don Blades (Zack Blew) urge their candidates to win at all costs. Injecting a delightful dose of humanity is former President Arthur Hockstader, whose endorsement of either man would carry critical weight as this contest goes down to the wire. Bob Baldridge gives a marvelous performance as the Harry Truman-like former president who measures a candidate on character and judgment more than rhetoric.
The candidates both have secrets – which would sink their campaigns. And each seems intent on stooping as low as needed in order to win, a cynical but perhaps telling commentary on today’s fractured body politic. Vidal’s resolution to this dilemma offers a little glimmer of hope that sometimes indeed the “best man” can emerge from such a sordid melee.
Director Jamie Nicholson and a strong cast have breathed life into an American classic that is still timely and still needed today.
Tim Reid reviews theater for the Citizen-Times. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
19 September 2008
From the C-T