You know how when you go see a show you can’t be sure that it is going to be amazing until it’s all said and done? Well, I was barely a few minutes into Gore Vidal’s The Best Man and already in love. The pre-show curtain and the state delegate banners built the excitement and then when the television news man did his segment from right above the audience like a narrator preparing us for the next big thing I was enthralled and as I focused on the set and the action and the dialogue I was also thinking to myself “ohmygosh I love this show.”
Put it this way the cast alone was worth watching doing nothing but put them all in a show, dress them up and give them lines and you’ve got something really special.
The play was about the 1960 nominating convention in which there are three potential candidates. John Larroquettes’s “Secretary of State William Russell” and John Stamos’ “Senator Joseph Cantwell” and the other guy who we never meet on stage. James Earl Jones plays former President Artie Hockstader who we think might endorse one of the two top candidates at the convention thereby sealing the deal for them. We quickly learn how each of them handles the press, what kind of wives and marriage they have and of course that there is more than meets the eye to their backgrounds that might threaten their runs if the other releases the data.
At one point, James Earl Jones broke character on stage while lecturing Secretary Russell about his campaign. He noticed, as probably the entire audience did, that there were a couple of huge flies buzzing the room. One of them landed on the white carpet near where he was standing and was hopping around so he broke character and tried to squish it with his foot meanwhile saying “there’s this fly here” and gesturing toward it in the middle of his dialogue. He is THE James Earl Jones, however and he wove it pretty seamlessly into the dialogue and carried on as he found his seat and never flinched. You felt like that was really something that President Hockstader would have done (although we know otherwise). John Larroquette however turned beet red trying to suppress laughter as he too carried on with his lines. It was this real moment that had us laughing and appreciating the human actor on stage before us performing in real time under real conditions and reacting like anyone else only with more finesse and refinement.
Angela Landsbury’s Mrs. Gamadge was brilliant. Her timing was impeccable and the part seemed like it was written for her. Kristen Davis played Cantell’s wife while Cybill Shepherd played Russell’s wife. Their characters or stories could not have been more different and yet they were still candidates wives and they really managed to share with the audience their different perspectives.
I know that some of the cast has turned over since the show debuted and yet I can barely imagine anyone else playing these key roles. It closes on September 9th so I encourage anyone out there with the slightest interest to see it. Be dazzled and enjoy the brilliance before you. The sets are beautiful, the dialogue was on point, the cast was amazing, and overall it was really an easy show to fall in love with right away.