The Best Man (play)

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The Best Man
Written by Gore Vidal
Date premiered March 31, 1960
Place premiered Morosco Theatre
New York City
Original language English
Subject Five men vie for their party's nomination for president.
Genre Drama
Setting A presidential convention, Philadelphia, 1960

The Best Man is a 1960 play by American playwright Gore Vidal. The play premiered on Broadway in 1960 and was nominated for six Tony Awards, including Best Play. Vidal adapted it into a film with the same title in 1964.

Lee Tracy, playing Art Hockstader, repeated his performance in the 1964 film adaptation.

Productions[edit]

The play opened on Broadway at the Morosco Theatre on March 31, 1960, and ran for 520 performances before closing on July 8, 1961.

The play starred Melvyn Douglas (William Russell) and Frank Lovejoy (Joseph Cantwell). On October 2, 1962, Lovejoy died of a heart attack in his sleep at his residence in New York City. Lovejoy and his wife, Joan Banks, had been appearing in a New Jersey production of the play.

A revival opened on Broadway at the Virginia Theatre in September 2000, and closed on Dec 31, 2000 after 121 performances and 15 previews. Directed by Ethan McSweeny, the play starred Elizabeth Ashley, Charles Durning, Christine Ebersole, Spalding Gray, Michael Learned, Chris Noth, Mark Blum, Jonathan Hadary and Jordan Lage.[1]

A revival opened on Broadway at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre on March 6, 2012 in previews and officially on April 1, 2012,[2] in a limited run. The play was originally scheduled to close on July 1, 2012 but has extended to September 9, 2012. The cast stars James Earl Jones (as former President Art Hockstader), Angela Lansbury, John Larroquette (as candidate William Russell), Candice Bergen, Eric McCormack (as candidate Senator Joseph Cantwell), Jefferson Mays, Michael McKean, Fred Parker Jr. and Kerry Butler, with direction by Michael Wilson. This production was nominated for two 2012 Tony Awards: Best Revival of a Play and Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play (Jones).[3] Theatre review aggregator Curtain Critic gave the production a score of 75 out of 100 based on the opinions of 13 critics.[4] John Stamos, Cybill Shepherd, Kristin Davis, and Elizabeth Ashley took over the roles originally held by McCormack, Bergen, Butler, and Lansbury, respectively, in July 2012.

Plot[edit]

At the Presidential primaries in the summer of 1960 in Philadelphia, an ethical man running for the Presidential nomination runs against an "unscrupulous" man. Populist southern senator Joseph Cantwell is a "bigot and a charlatan", while William Russell, who prides himself on his honesty, is the liberal candidate, "likable, forceful and humorous."[5] Both candidates try to get the endorsement of the popular outgoing president, who enjoys not telling them which one he'll endorse.

Political association[edit]

At the time, it was widely recognized that the play was written as a deliberate parallel of the upcoming 1960 Democratic Convention, and a scathing attack on the Kennedys whom Vidal detested, and also something of a tribute to Adlai Stevenson who Vidal admired and supported. The principal characters in the play represent Vidal's then view of the main players in the Democratic Party, only with different names.

Vidal's main character and hero, the very patrician and intellectual William Russell, is an homage to Adlai Stevenson (with a touch of Dean Acheson), while the despicable Senator Joe Cantwell represent Vidal's view of JFK – though the Joe Cantwell character also combined elements of Richard Nixon whom Vidal detested (as well as Joseph McCarthy and Estes Kefauver, both of whom, like Cantwell, rose to national prominence via publicity-seeking Senate investigative committees. (Cantwell even specifically mentions hearings into the Mafia, similar to those in which Kefauver and both Kennedys had participated.) The rumors of homosexuality in Joe Cantwell's past also parallel rumors about Joe McCarthy.

Additionally, Joe Cantwell campaigns on the need to close "The Missile Gap" with the USSR, which was a major Kennedy campaign claim (and lie: despite Sputnik, in terms of strategic missiles the US was well ahead of the Soviets at the time). In an ironic and prophetic similarity to Nixon, Cantwell has secretly decided to open relations with Red China if elected, while playing up his anti-Communism in public. The ex-President, Art Hockstader, whose endorsement both candidates are fighting for is a clear send-up of Harry Truman, even down to his trademark quip when downing a shot of Bourbon - "Striking a blow for Liberty!"

After 1968, when both JFK and RFK were dead, and posthumously transformed into the darlings of the New Left, Vidal ceased to mention the Kennedy connection and only admitted the Nixon association, and even embellished on Hockstader as a combination of Truman and Eisenhower.

Response[edit]

In his review of the original 1960 Broadway play for The New York Times, Brooks Atkinson wrote that the play is a "political melodrama that comes close enough to the truth to be both comic and exciting"[5] and that Vidal "knows how to put together a plot that is both amusing and engrossing."[5]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Awards
  • 1960 Tony Award Best Actor in Play - Melvyn Douglas
Nominations
  • 1960 Tony Award for Best Play
  • 1960 Tony Award, Best Actor in Play - Lee Tracy
  • 1960 Tony Award, Best Featured Actress in a Play - Leora Dana
  • 1960 Tony Award, Best Scenic Design (Play) - Jo Mielziner
  • 1960 Tony Award, Best Direction of a Play - Joseph Anthony
  • 2012 Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play
  • 2012 Tony Award for Best Leading Actor in a Play - James Earl Jones

References[edit]

  1. ^ Brantley, Ben. "Theater Review: A Timeless Morality Tale Cloaked in Politics" The New York Times, September 18, 2000
  2. ^ Haun, Harry. "Playbill On Opening Night: Gore Vidal's 'The Best Man' Pins the Tale" Playbill.com, April 2, 2012
  3. ^ Gans, Andrew and Jones, Kenneth." 'The Best Man', Tony Nominee as Best Revival of a Play, Extends Booking a Second Time" Playbill.com, May 17, 2012
  4. ^ "Gore Vidal's The Best Man". Curtain Critic. Retrieved 21 June 2012. 
  5. ^ a b c Atkinson, Brooks. "The Best Man", The New York Times, April 1, 1960, p. 39

Further reading[edit]

  • Vidal, Gore (1960). The Best Man: A Play About Politics (First ed.). Boston: Little, Brown. OCLC 290727. 

External links[edit]