What a fantastic little fable about American politics. In THE BODY POLITIC, writers Richard Abrons and Margarett Perry (the latter of whom also directs this production) have crafted a whip-cracker of a tale about a Republican who falls for a Democrat on the campaign trail. As their relationship – and the campaign – progresses, the young party-liners find themselves negotiating and renegotiating their plans to win the presidency for their candidates.
Abrons and Perry have crafted a world where the superficial trappings of the political machinery are present, creating a backdrop against which the action unfurls, but at the same time they’ve kept the spotlight on the characters in this play – their intrigues and double-crosses, their strategizing and bending of moral certitude – instead of getting bogged down in, you know, actual politics.
At its opening, the six characters of THE BODY POLITIC are waiting for their town cars after a debate. Alternately charming and scathing, the two youngest members of the campaign trade barbs – with young WASP Spencer Davis (Matthew Boston) getting in a few cheeky zings at his democratic counterpart, Trish Rubenstein (Eve Danzeisen). The scenes move quickly – at times the pace of the production feels more filmic than theatrical, with audiences often having only a few pages’ worth of rapid-fire dialogue to establish a setting and connect with the characters’ intentions. It’s a gambit that could make the piece feel choppy, but instead – to an audience member familiar with political drama like THE WEST WING and IN THE LOOP – it’s easy to quickly decide where each scene fits with the one before it. The result is that the pace of the piece is kept moving at a steady clip, and at no point in the production does one feel that horrible sense of time’s immovable plodding. The show might run two hours long (including an intermission), but is tightly constructed and never feels like a drag.
The chemistry between the two protagonists is sometimes lacking, but both Boston and Danzeisen are a pleasure to watch as they’re played off and against one another by their fellow campaigners, and it is the likeability of both these actors that keeps their characters sympathetic despite the tricks they play; we can admire their tenacity and commitment to their own ideals because on sensitive issues, the playwrights have found ways to legitimately express the frustrations, hopes, fears and motivations of both the religious right and the radical lefties – while at the same time reminding us that actually, both Democrats and (to a lesser degree now that the Tea Party has arrived) Republicans benefit from a polarized system.
The rest of the cast is entertaining and enjoyable – particularly Leslie Hendrix, whose turn as Political Warrior Goddess Brunhilda Logan transports this play into high satire; her blunt, direct and mannish delivery is an absolute delight. From brutal profanities to a direct delivery of threatened emasculation, Brunhilda is a fizzing, spitting Fury – and Hendrix is utterly delightful in the role.
If you’re looking for affordable (for NYC) theater at a terrific venue (59E59 is a personal favorite of mine), then you can’t go wrong with THE BODY POLITIC.