Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Farragut North


By Beau Willimon. Dir. Doug Hughes. Atlantic Theatre. (CLOSED)

Critics are mostly positive (if not overwhelmingly so) about Beau Willimon's take on political back-room dealing amidst the Iowa caucuses. Many reviewers reference the play's cinematic quality, either positively or not, and note that it gets a bit bogged down in its second act. All of the actors, including Law and Order's Chris Noth and The Wire's Isaiah Whitlock get praise, but it is Tony winner John Gallagher who rakes in the hosannas. The big outlier is Talkin' Broadway's Matthew Murray from Talkin' Broadway, who positively loathed the play and most of the performances.

The Journal News A
(Jacques Le Sourd) Gallagher...is a wondrous talent...And Noth gives a performance of profound depth as the political operative who has seen more than a few campaigns, and values loyalty above all else...The characters caught up in this dense political brew are hardly new and they're hardly news. But Willimon makes it seem gripping and as fresh as your next text-message.

TheaterMania A
(David Finkle) You might think post-election euphoria would make Beau Willimon's presidential-campaign drama Farragut North, now at the Atlantic Theatre, hit the ground as if it were out of step with the times. But the drama is so well-conceived and persuasively written that nothing will stop the cynicism seeping over the edge of the stage like spilled acid from jarring audiences into shock and awe. And director Doug Hughes has taken expert care to bring out the scary implication of every one of Willimon's characters' nuances, nasty plot turns, and lines of barbed-wire dialogue.

Variety A-
(David Rooney) Juicy entertainment... At the center of all this, Gallagher bounces from brash overconfidence to cold-sweat discomfort and, finally, to desperate bids for self-preservation and revenge. It's no stretch to believe this wunderkind, "the best media mind in the country," can charm the vulture-like press even while playing them. And it's fun to watch the wheels of his strategist's mind turning even after defeat as he weighs the political usefulness of a waiter's hard-luck story (Otto Sanchez, doubling as a Los Angeles Times reporter).

Time Out NY A-
(Adam Feldman) Doug Hughes’s dynamic production at the Atlantic mines Willimon’s who’s-zooming-who plot for all it’s worth. Gallagher, one of our best young actors, gives a first-class performance in the central role, nailing Stephen’s cocky charm as well as the emptiness beneath it, which becomes clearer during his precipitous slide from grace. Olivia Thirlby is equally impressive as Molly, a 19-year-old intern who is both preternaturally self-possessed and eager to give herself away.

CurtainUp A-
(Elyse Sommer) The fast-paced drama that showcases all this acting talent, both individually and as a tightly meshed ensemble was penned by Beau Williimon, an up and coming young playwright and screen writer who's previously displayed a leaning towards current events (last season's Lower Ninth at the off-off-Broadway Flea Theater was about the Katrina disaster). Because Willimon's emphasis is on the staffers who are responsible for dealing with their candidates' ups and downs, getting positive and headline worthy press coverage and nabbing important endorsements, the candidates themselves are never seen. They are nevertheless a constant presence in the snappy dialogue.

Associated Press A-
(Michael Kuchwara) The playwright doesn't have a very high opinion of those who operate in the political arena. Everyone uses everyone else to get what they want, and the players not only include people in high and low campaign positions, but members of the press, eager for a story. Willimon's dialogue is slick and rat-tat-tat punchy, almost cinematic in its fast-forwarding, as is Doug Hughes' fluid direction. Of course, a movie version already is in the works.

NY Daily News A-
(Joe Dziemianowicz) You'd think that after just finishing an election, political fatigue would have set in. So it's to Willimon's credit that he crafted such an intriguing play, one that's smart, unbiased and told with an insider's eye.

(Matt Windman) The timely play, which is clearly inspired by Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing, acts and moves like a film. In fact, Willimon is currently writing the screenplay for Warner Brothers. Though many of his scenes are stretched a bit too long, Willimon manages to keep the audience hooked and happy and occasionally surprised.

NYPost B
(Frank Scheck) While Farragut North never quite achieves the pungent urgency to which it aspires - one can only imagine what a playwright like Mamet could have done with it - it works well enough. Director Doug Hughes has provided a fast-paced, well-acted production that compensates for the play's more contrived elements.

The Record B
(Robert Feldberg)Gallagher is very persuasive as both a boyishly appealing young man and as a snake, but trying to make Stephen something akin to a tragic figure doesn’t work. The play, the character and the performance all lack the heft to bolster that interpretation. Take Farragut North as a well-crafted tale of mischief, manipulation and misdeeds, all in the cause of winning. Machiavelli would have approved.

NYTimes B-
(Charles Isherwood) Mr. Willimon writes convincing dialogue in the statistic-laden, obscenity-peppered argot of his campaign workers and the reporters they try to manipulate. And he’s good at suggesting the self-mythologizing streak in such people, the sentimentality that coexists within the cutthroat coldness. But he doesn’t stylize a trade language into transporting theatrical poetry the way that, say, David Mamet does with the movie-industry-speak of Speed-the-Plow (currently in revival on Broadway). And Mr. Hughes... fails to sustain the aggressive momentum that might make us forget how schematic and familiar this story ultimately is.

Backstage C+
(David A. Rosenberg) Farragut North is a shallow play given an absorbing production... the play's various personal strands don't mesh with the political ones. The wrong turns taken seem miniscule and unimportant. Separated from the action, the candidates themselves are ciphers, merely a frame around petty incidents.

Newday C
(Linda Winer) As Beau Willimon's plot-heavy piece continues, however, the up-to-the-minute thrills feel like yesterday's news - or like a misplaced movie script. The serious comedy, which Mike Nichols was originally rumored to be staging on Broadway before the election, opened instead at Off-Broadway's Atlantic Theatre Company as a spy-versus-spy-versus-spy shaggy-campaign story whose timeliness has passed.

TalkinBroadway D
(Matthew Murray) It's... unconvincing that this sublimely smart young man could ever be as supremely stupid as Stephen must be for the plot to cohere. Willing suspension of disbelief is one thing, but willing suspension of sanity is something else entirely, and that's too hefty a demand for Willimon to make in a work positioning itself as this real and this cynical.

Journal News A 13; TheaterMania A 13; Variety A- 12; AP A- 12; CurtainUp A- 12; NYDN A- 12; TONY A- 12; AMNY B 10; NYPost B 10; The Record B 10; NYTimes B- 9; Backstage C+ 8;Newsday C 7; TB D 4; TOTAL = 144 / 14 = 10.29 = B

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