Pity the political wife, applauding the same stump speeches with the same tired cliches day after day, mouthed by a philandering hypocrite of a husband. In Gore Vidal’s The Best Man, now at the Schonfeld Theater, Candice Bergen plays Alice Russell, the wife of William Russell, a former Secretary of State seeking his party’s nomination for President.
At the hotel, they’re staying in the same suite for appearance’s sake but in adjoining rooms. Secretary Russell, played by a magnificent John Larroquette, has for years sought out extra-marital greener pastures. At several points in the play, I felt as if I were spying on Bill and Hillary’s bedroom. Written in 1960, Vidal’s prescience is uncanny.
Other than filling in for Sigourney Weaver in Hurley Burley a few years ago, this Michael Wilson directed play is Bergen‘s first major role on Broadway. Watching her quiet reactions was a lesson in good acting.The political men are in the spotlight, including the play’s spiritual anchor, James Earl Jones, as former president Hockstader, but Vidal doesn’t disregard the importance of women in the political process. Angela Lansbury is hilarious as committee chairwoman Sue Ellen Gamadge who knows everybody and everything.
Russell’s nemesis is young Senator Cantell who’ll do or say anything to get elected. He’s played by Eric McCormack from television’s Will and Grace. Tony nominee Kerry Butler is his political wife Mabel, a blonde Southern belle who’s pure ambition. When she appears in a bra and panties, I was thankful for a good seat.After the Russell team gets hold of sensitive information that could torpedo Cantwell’s campaign, it becomes a question of how far the former Secretary will go to win. With the Russell’s marriage hanging in the balance, something more than the election might be at stake.