This play is a must see for various reasons – first of all it’s an old but very current story about politics and how easy it is to become corrupted by the lure of power. And secondly it features an all star cast that is so amazing one has to see it to believe that all these highest class actors came together for one play. And according to Playbill the producers lured them all in with each other… 😉
Who wants it most? that is the central theme of this high class drama (made into a movie in 1966 with Henry Fonda and Cliff Robertson): During the pre election of the front runner of their party William Russell (John Larroquette), almost too honest for the job to come bt never faithful to his long suffering wife (Candice Bergen and marvellous), and slick, young Joseph Cantwell (Eric McCormack), who’ll say anything to succeed, are trying to get the votes of the senators in a hotel in Philadelphia. They’re also desperately trying to get endorsed by President Hockstader (James Earl Jones – brilliant) and the Chairman of the Women’s Division, Sue Ellen Gamadge (Angela Lansbury, and divine as always).
Russell is a man of conviction and hopes to elevate politics beyond the personal attack. Cantwell is a political street fighter who practices a “means justifies the ends” strategy, willing to crush any opponent.
For ex-president Hockstader it’s Russell’s inability to act that’s his flaw. Russell, a man of conscience, sees too many sides to issues, he is paralyzed by analysis. Hockstader, a practical man, is ready to endorse Cantwell.
And while hot shot Cantwell uses polls and digging up dirt on anyone standing in his way, Russell tries to keep politics clean. He doesn’t really succeed tho – Cantwell acquires Russell’s hospital files from years ago, when he had a nervous breakdown and intends to use them to make Russell go away. And Russell’s campaign manager finds out that now married with children Cantwell has been court martialled during his military years – because of being gay.
And even though blackmailing Cantwell with these papers goes against everything Russell believes in he finally is willing to use this dynamite in order to keep Cantwell from being elected – because Russell believes he is the better man for the job. And then – former president Hockstader collapses and dies – his hernia operation was a smoke screen – he had been suffering from cancer for the longest time. And while Hockstader dies in hospital, Russell finally makes up his mind and comes to a decision.
He steps out of the race and gives his votes not to Cantwell, but the unknown, faceless third contender – because the less is known about the new candidate the more people can interpret into his actions. He will turn out to become the best man.
James Earl Jones is amazing – his booming voice and stance commands the authority of a president effortlessly. Angela Lansbury is a brilliantly annoying Chairman for women’s affairs, defending old fashioned women’s behaviour and requiring the same from the future First Lady. These two actors obviously make everyone else trying to be at their best and so the rest of the brilliant cast is trying to live up to their high standards – and they are succeeding.
The play is brilliantly done, in a theatre decorated as a political stage in 1960, which is an awesome idea and makes the audience part of the action. It’s only a14 weeks run, so if you get tickets, go see it – it’s brilliant – even more so in pre-election time USA of today.