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Artvoice Theater Week by Anthony Chase
Gary Earl Ross, who achieved a huge success with his play, Matter of Intent, which won the Emanuel Fried Award at the Arties before going on to win the 2005 Edgar Award for best play from the Mystery Writers of America, has turned his attention to politics in his new play, The Best Woman. Here, we meet a Clinton-esque senator running for president against an Condoleeza-esque conservative Republican, African-American woman. As the stakes get higher, each receives dirt on the other from ill-intentioned helpers.
The play derives a great deal of its fun from thinly disguised references to current events. Slightly altered names and places in the news inspire delighted audience reaction in a play, which, at present, follows a journey that is otherwise rather prosaic. Ross's writing is witty and provides a rapid pace for actors Mary Moebius and Joyce Carolyn who play the central combatants. The playwright lavishes time on a second act television debate making it clear that his main goal is parody, not drama. This is, of course, very appealing at the comic level, though in a subsequent production, a clearer line to the play's moral dilemma could be drawn, giving the piece more weight, shelf-life and universal appeal.
Adair Luhr projects a winning stage presence and scores hit after palpable hit in the role of the senator's chief of staff. Moebius and Carolyn are similarly appealing as two women more admirable than most real-life politicians. The production is quite fun, and perfect for the long election season just beginning. "The Best Woman" continues through April 1.
Political Stage Adds to Debate
by Colin Dabkowski, Buffalo News
There's some debate about whether a dramatization of today's absurd political environment is worthwhile. Why go to the theater, some ask, when we could just as well turn on NPR?
In his new ripped-from-the-headlines political play "The Best Woman," Gary Earl Ross gives us plenty of reasons to click off the radio and head to Ujima's TheaterLoft, despite the unavoidable quotidian presence of the subject matter.
The play is well-written and tightly constructed, its characters imbued either with authentic good nature or downright fiendishness. At times it can seem like watching a numbing segment on CNN. But the play's smart, cutting dialogue is engaging enough to make the drama at least as amusing as the political process of the last few years.
When it comes to the U.S. political stage, Ross doesn't change much but the names. The play is set in the proximate future and revolves around a debate between two women (based on Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Rodham Clinton) vying for the presidency. The whole lovable cast of characters from the Beltway and beyond is there, if not on stage, then in reference. Bush is Bullard (a sly combination of bully and dullard), Karl Rove is Dr. Vernon Lark, Iraq is Qaraq, Rush Limbaugh is Crash Lambert, 9/11 is 10/10, and so on.
The strength of the play comes not in the scenes between the two candidates (played by Joyce Carolyn and Mary Moebius), but as their political advisers strategize and plot backstabbing techniques before the debate. As Lark, Phil Knoerzer is wonderfully devious in his attempts to squash Senator Amanda Dean Styles, the Democratic candidate. Performances from Carolyn and Moebius don't quite keep up, especially during the debate itself.
The rest of the play runs more smoothly, thanks to what seems to be keen and economical direction by Lorna C. Hill.
Surprisingly, Ross reserves equal vitriol for both sides of the aisle in this play, while he could very well have let it slip into a raving diatribe against the Bush administration. In a particularly telling scene, Gilchrist, the Republican candidate, gets a call from Rev. Bob Patterson, Ross's version of televangelist Pat Robertson. Speaking about the gay group the Log Cabin Republicans, Patterson suggests, "If they want to be gay, they should just be Democrats."
When the phone call is over, Gilchrist quips, "People like him used to be presidential assassins, not presidential advisers." It's an unexpected humanization of the Republican side of things, and a look into the hypocrisy inherent in running a campaign for either party. It's refreshing to see Gilchrist not as a possessed neoconservative pawn, but a woman, as Ross puts it, whose "good intentions deprived her of a deeper social conscience." But, conversely, the good intentions of "The Best Woman" can only make our social consciences deeper.