by Hugh Hunter
It comes as no surprise to see a drama that presents politics as corrupting. The strength of “Farragut North” (2008), now running at Stagecrafters, is that it manages to do so without being cynical.
The play is all about the toxic effect of politics on the character of 25-year-old Stephen Bellamy (David Pica). The young communications director thrives on being a spin doctor. Still, he does truly believe in the presidential campaign of Governor Morris. But when Stephen falls victim to political intrigue, this wunderkind loses all sense of right and wrong.
The Stagecrafters’ show is a taut political thriller that comes from the inside out. Playwright Beau Willimon served as a political intern in the presidential campaign of Howard Dean in 2004, while director Jane Toczek used to be a congressional aide in Washington, D.C. She writes “…I felt as though these characters were all people I had known…”
Set designer Richard Stewart gets a workout. He has to create scenes in a bar, a dingy restaurant, Stephen’s hotel room, Des Moines airport, a campaign event, campaign HQ and Paul’s bedroom. Such staging demands are cumbersome, but the play does give you the feeling of hectic politicking and the rush of events.
The waiter (Drew Seltzer) is the only non-political character. He struggles to save his restaurant and care for his war-disabled brother. He admires Governor Morris as a statesman. But all the political people in “Farragut” have private agendas, and in the case of the older pols, viciousness has become their second nature.
Paul (Jerry Curran) runs the Morris campaign. He claims to esteem “loyalty,” but this is a cardboard virtue that he uses to disguise his larger evil. Tom (Joe Herman), another veteran pol, runs an opponent’s campaign. After hideously double-crossing Stephen, he proceeds to give him fatherly advice: You’re young. Get out of this business while you still have the chance.
Others are either poisonous or about to become so. Ben (Jeff Hunsicker) is a gee-whiz, “All About Eve” type who ingratiates himself, watches and waits. Ida (Michele S. Scutti) is a New York Times reporter who would sell her first-born child to get a good scoop.
We never see Governor Morris himself, but Stephen is in every scene. The tight focus on his character along with Pica’s sterling performance makes “Farragut” compelling. He sinks so low that he takes shameful advantage of Molly (Jackie Diferdinando), a vulnerable 19-year-old intern, because all Stephen now wants is revenge.
But you do not hate him. Stephen is like someone caught up in an addiction; you only hate what he has become. His downfall reflects more on the dangers inherent in the allure of power politics, and you suspect that if you were in similar circumstances, you might be something like him.
Stagecrafters is located at 8130 Germantown Ave. “Farragut North” will run through Oct. 4. Reservations available at 215-247-9913.