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Gore Vidal’s "The Best Man" Stars James Earl Jones, John Laroquette, Candice Bergen, & Angela Lansbury at Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre
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Gore Vidal’s "The Best Man" Stars James Earl Jones, John Laroquette, Candice Bergen, & Angela Lansbury at Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre

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Jeffrey Richards, Jerry Frankel, Infinity Stages
et al.

Gore Vidal’s The Best Man
(The Best Man Website)

James Earl Jones, John Laroquette
Candice Bergen, Eric McCormack
Kerry Butler, Jefferson Mays
Michael McKean, Angela Lansbury

And an acting ensemble

Directed by Michael Wilson

Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre
236 West 45th Street

Scenic Design: Derek McLane
Costume Design: Ann Roth
Lighting Design: Kenneth Posner
Original Music/Sound Design: John Gromada
Projection Design: Peter Nigrini
Casting: Telsey + Company/Will Cantler, CSA
Hair Design: Josh Marquette
Technical Supervisor: Hudson Theatrical Productions
Production Stage Manager: Matthew Farrell
Assoc. Director: Coy Middlebrook
Press Agent/Marketing: Jeffrey Richards Associates,
Irene Gandy/Alana Karpoff
Company Manager: Brig Berney
General Management: Richards/Climan, Inc.
Associate Producer: Stephanie Rosenberg

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
April 11, 2012 Matinee

Gore Vidal’s The Best Man, written for early 1960’s politics, still rings true today. This was one of the most delightful matinees of the season, and it’s filled with renowned talent. John Larroquette as Secretary William Russell is running for his nameless party’s nomination for President, as are Eric McCormack as Senator Joseph Cantwell and one offstage candidate, as well. The convention scene is Philadelphia, and Russell’s hotel suite is elegant and refined. Alice Russell, his wife, a stunning Candice Bergen, in rare form, is uptight and feeling rejected. Her husband has long ago found intimacy elsewhere, and his campaign aide, Catherine (Angelica Page), has his eye. Also joining the Russells in their suite are former President Arthur “Artie” Hockstader, a Southerner, the incomparable, ebullient James Earl Jones, who’s also in rare form. And, speaking of rare form, Angela Lansbury is onstage as well, as Mrs. Sue-Ellen Gamadge, a sophisticated, well-bred, and brutally honest Chairman of the party’s women’s division. The Vidal conceived repartee, as these savvy political players plot their winning strategy, is engaging and enthused, and the audience was visibly drawn in and generous with accolades at the curtain.

Speaking of curtains, the audience is greeted by red, white, and blue draped cotton, flowing ribbons, and straw hats on the ushers, all adding to the life force of the show’s ambiance. Michael McKean is outstanding as Dick Jensen, Russell’s campaign manager, and Kerry Butler has a Mad Men sultriness as Cantwell’s wife, Mabel. One other remarkable addition to this stellar cast is Jefferson Mays as Sheldon Marcus, who’s brought in by Russell’s team to smear Cantwell, with stories of past army behavior in the locker room, and Mr. Mays stutters and stammers in shy apprehension, as he’s drawn into this seamy web. Several minor characters add depth to the unfolding campaigns of both Russell and Cantwell, including a cameo by Donna Hanover as Cantwell’s mother, and appearances by Dakin Matthews as Senator Clyde Carlin, Corey Brill as Cantwell’s Campaign Manager, and others as hotel staff and news reporters/commentators. There were so many surprising similarities to the current Presidential campaign, that the audience laughed in knowing camaraderie with the characters. Russell was often chided by his team for waxing poetic and esoteric, while Cantwell went for the jugular. The reason Sheldon Marcus was sought out was to counter Cantwell’s stories of Russell’s nervous breakdown, or such. Deals are made and scores are settled.

Michael Wilson has directed this cast to laudable results. Mr. Larroquette gives a remarkable performance as the self-serving Secretary, wannabe President, with slight stuffiness mixed with a twinkle in his eye. As the Harvard grad, who rose the political ladder, while traveling the world, Mr. Larroquette exudes credible savoir faire. As his lonely, repressed wife, Ms. Bergen presents herself with polished decorum and self-preserving stillness. Mr. Jones and Ms. Lansbury grip the eye, whenever they’re onstage, as Mr. Jones’ character, suffering with terminal cancer, speaks with free-flowing ebullience, while Ms. Lansbury’s character, old-fashioned but swank, speaks with noble wisdom. Mr. McCormack, as the ruthless and aggressive Cantwell, has moments of Nixon-ish appearance. Derek McLane’s set, that morphs into the convention, itself, is incredibly versatile and stylish. Ann Roth’s 1960-era costumes are well suited to the occasion, especially Mabel Cantwell’s silky attire. Kenneth Posner’s lighting brilliantly brings forth the shadow of the third, offstage candidate, and John Gromada’s sound and music add patriotic innocence to the grandiose games these politicians play. Peter Nigrini’s projections enhance the historical import. Kudos to Gore Vidal.

James Earl Jones and John Larroquette
in Gore Vidal's "The Best Man"
Courtesy of Joan Marcus

Angela Lansbury and Candice Bergen
in Gore Vidal's "The Best Man"
Courtesy of Joan Marcus

Kerry Butler, Eric McCormack, Angela Lansbury
in Gore Vidal's "The Best Man"
Courtesy of Joan Marcus

James Earl Jones
in Gore Vidal's "The Best Man"
Courtesy of Joan Marcus

Jefferson Mays and Eric McCormack
in Gore Vidal's "The Best Man"
Courtesy of Joan Marcus

Eric McCormack, Corey Brill, Candice Bergen,
John Larroquette, Michael McKean
in Gore Vidal's "The Best Man"
Courtesy of Joan Marcus

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at