Playwright: Beau Willimon. At: Stage Left Theatre at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont. Phone: 773-975-8150; $25. Runs through: Oct. 9
A film adapted from the play Farragut North will soon be showing in a multiplex near you, but under the new title of The Ides of March. (Undoubtedly, that symbolic date drawn from Shakespeare's political-backstabber Julius Caesar is more accessible than the play's moniker, drawn from a Metro station name that leads to a district full of lobbyists in Washington, D.C.)
However, for those who want to take a gander at Beau Willimon's original 2008 play that inspired the forthcoming George Clooney/Ryan Gosling film, head over to Theater Wit to see how Stage Left Theatre interprets Farragut North in its Chicago premiere.
Willimon, a political campaign veteran and a former speechwriter for President Bill Clinton, creates a tension-filled drama about a savvy and ambitious 25-year-old press secretary named Stephen Bellamy (Brian Plocharczyk) who is the mastermind behind the Democratic presidential campaign for an unseen Gov. Mike Morris. Bellamy makes an uncharacteristic slip-up by meeting with rival campaign manager Tom Duffy (Sandy Elias) in the lead-up to the Iowa Caucuses, and then spends the rest of the play desperately trying to cajole his way back into the good graces of campaign manager (and mentor) Paul Zara (Michael Dailey).
Bellamy's egotistical machinations and scrambling make Farragut North into a gripping drama questioning where true loyalty lies amid the backroom wrangling among political workers and the press.
Director Vance Smith does a good job of staging Farragut North for Stage Left Theatre, but there is room for improvement.
As the overconfident Bellamy, Plocharczyk should be more of an arrogant and power-hungry prick in the early scenes (think of a young Charlie Sheen). At the opening night performance, Plocharczyk came off as too much of a decent and nice guy, making Bellamy's monstrously revengeful actions at the end of the play feel uncharacteristically extreme.
In fact, all of the performances could have been turned up an emotional notch, especially considering all the high-stakes conflicts and outcomes. Smith's pacing of the show could also have been more taught, what with some of the scenic changes slowing down the flow on Roger Wykes' otherwise functional multiple-location set.
However, in the grand scheme of things, Stage Left Theatre's Farragut North ultimately succeeds since it sheds some light on the frequently ugly underside of American politicking. Farragut North shows how sometimes a dose of jolting reality can be just as insightful and compelling as a serving of uplifting optimism.