(Michael Feingold’s article appeared in the Village Voice, 4/11.)
The Broadway producer Jeffrey Richards has, if not a fixation for, at least a preoccupation with Gore Vidal's 1960 political comedy, The Best Man (Schoenfeld Theatre), which he has now revived for the second time in a dozen years. The two revivals make an interesting study in contrasts. Richards's previous attempt, directed by Ethan McSweeney in 2000, seemed to take its prevailing tone from the last name of its leading actor, the late Spalding Gray, whose distanced, unemphatic approach made his role—a patrician, sardonic presidential aspirant distrusted by his party as an intellectual—seem even more aloof. Gray set a chilly temperature that nobody else in McSweeney's largely well-cast production seemed able to break.
McSweeney's successes, a list the 2000 Best Man didn't make, have come with taut, largely naturalistic plays. Richards's new production is directed by Michael Wilson, whose notable work includes excursions into the more flamboyant realms of Tennessee Williams's writing. Wilson's solution is to turn Vidal's cannily structured, snarkily funny drama into a big, noisy party, like the political convention at which it is set, complete with video simulcasts, blaring patriotic tunes, actors invading the aisles, ushers in Styrofoam boaters decorated with red-white-and-blue ribbons, and a celebrity-heavy cast that indulges in a good deal of outrageous but thoroughly entertaining ham bone.