We open on a Democratic governor/ presidential hopeful (Brian Dykstra) and two aides stuck waiting for their car in an after-debate green room with a Republican governor/presidential hopeful (Daren Kelly) and two aides waiting for theirs. Potshots are at the border of civil. Brunhilda (Leslie Hendrix), an aid to The Republican governor, is quick to use the familiar term, “limousine liberals.” Victor (Michael Puzzo), her Democratic counterpart, responds to the ever present God-is-on-our-side issue, with a chorus of “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.” (It turns out these two once worked together) Points of view (simplified for dramatic clarity) are accurate to both current polemic and apparent platforms. This is a smart play.
Each camp’s young, evangelistic political operatives, Trish—the Democrat (Eve Danzeisen) and Spencer—the Republican (Matthew Boston), take note of one another with a balanced volley of whip-smart, articulate barbs. “You’re a nattering nabob of negativism (William Safire),” she lobs. “All that artfully articulated alliteration, you pulchritudinous proponent of positivism,” he counters smiling.
Recalling the relationships of Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy in their iconic romantic antagonism films, The Body Politic updates dialogue and dangles sex. It’s a Mary Matalin/James Carville-like situation (something to which there are too many references- really, we get it). Recognizing the romantic premise of the piece in no way diminishes the fun. At a subsequent drinks meeting, ostensibly to set up the second debate, conversation starts with similar, though more specific, enmeshed party differences and deftly segues into personal territory. Spenser is gleefully surprised. Trish is drawn but appalled.
The respective camps are aware of the couple’s attraction and rather than forbid it, attempt to use unexpected proximity to the enemy. “I thought this kind of trick went out with Nixon,” Trish says to her boss. Pause. “No,” he flatly responds. Both governors cite Nathan Hale as a motivating example—Nathan Hale, the patriot, not the spy. Interestingly, the issue at hand is religion. (Sound recent?) Trish and Spencer’s growing relationship is cleverly braided with campaign agendas. Neither person does anything she or he would not credibly do, yet both go out of bounds.
Matthew Boston (Spencer) is terrific. His portrayal of an Andover/Yale Wasp is, as Trish points out, “an excellent example of his species.” Too clever by half, Spencer’s every quip and question is made credible by actor-engendered ballast. Equally important and less easily accomplished, we believe him as a feeling man. Boston is great with schtick and has accomplished timing.
Eve Danzeisen’s Trish is an ingénue with backbone, a soldier on the front. To the actress’s credit, both Trish’s attraction to Spencer, and later an ethical quandary, appear to be not only verbally but visibly against her better judgment. The tightly wound character is played with effective restraint. When Trish let’s go, the humor of Danzeisen’s physical acting shines.
Leslie Hendrix (Brunhilda) is a hoot from the word go. Every acerbic comment hits its target propelled by keen deliverance and precise tone. Her long body slouches, drapes and dramatizes with comic precision. She bristles and raises an eyebrow with the best of comediennes, yet never loses the intelligence of her role.
Brian Dykstra (Governor Granville Parker—the Democrat) offers us a perfect Southern gentleman-politician. The accent is impeccable, his mannerisms patrician but not without a touch of country-boy charm. Dykstra’s character seems to think before he talks. A well grounded, portrayal.
Director Margaret Perry is a real talent. Staging, including speeches we witness through the scrim in the company of Trish and Spencer and some of the most deliciously irresistible boudoir interaction you may ever see, serves the play to its best advantage. Argument is played as serious sport. Pacing is perfectly pitched.
The Body Politic is clever, contemporary, topical, and very funny. There are shades of Aaron Sorkin in its crackling dialogue and political savvy. (high compliment.) Well placed references to real people effectively draw us in. The mating dance sizzles and erupts with real originality.
Photos by Carol Rosegg
1. Brian Dykstra, Michael Puzzo, Eve Danzeisen
2. Matthew Boston, Eve Danzeisen
3. Matthew Boston Leslie Hendrix, Darren Kelly
The Body Politic by Richard Abrons & Margaret Perry
Directed by Margarett Perry
59E59 St Theaters
59 East 59 St.
Through March 6
www.59e59.com or 212-279-4200