St. Thomas Players get political with 'The Best Man'

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 12, 2008

By Katie Scarvey
Salisbury Post
The St. Thomas Players’ selection of Gore Vidal’s “The Best Man” seems timely, given that we’ve just been through a particularly grueling Democratic primary process.
The selection came about as a result of a request from Barbara Setzer, who felt “The Best Man” would be a good play to go along with the Summer Reading Challenge. This summer’s book list focuses on works about politics.
The steering committee of St. Thomas Players, including artistic director Kurt Corriher, read the play after Setzer suggested it.
“As it turned out, we all thought, ‘This is a good play,’ ” Corriher says.
Director Jim Esposito says that although the play was written 48 years ago, it’s as timely today as it was then.
The play tells the story of the conflict between two candidates for their party’s nomination, Corriher says. One candidate, Bill Russell (played by Corriher) is “intellectual and highly principled.”
The character is, Corriher believes, “probably based on Gore Vidal as he liked to imagine himself.”
The other candidate, Senator Joseph Cantwell (Shawn Van Wallendael) “paints himself as a candidate of the people,” Corriher says. “He is, however, completely unprincipled and personally ambitious.”
For Cantwell, the ends justifies the means, and he’ll do what it takes to get elected.
Cantwell smears Russell with something that is not entirely true. Russell has the opportunity to smear back.
“That moral dilemma is kind of the center of the play,” Corriher says.
Will Russell take the high road and stick to the issues, or will he get down in the mud and fight back?
A former president (played by David Crook) is sort of the “guy in the middle,” Corriher says. Not without principles, he’s nonetheless a realist when it comes to how politics is practiced.
Playwright Vidal’s interest in politics was more than casual. His grandfather was a senator and his father worked for the Roosevelt administration. Vidal himself ran for Congress unsuccessfully several times.
Vidal certainly felt himself to be equipped to lead, as evidenced by a statement he made in a 1972 interview: “There is not one human problem that could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise.”
Vidal, however, will be remembered for his literary career, not his political one.
The play will be performed “in the round,” with audience members seated on all four sides of the theatre, with entrances for the actors at the corners.
Cast members include Rebekah Hardison, Lori Van Wallendael, Rob Hackett, Sarah Drinkard, David Crook, Nick Bishop, Bill Barton, Jamison Middlemiss and Nick Luisi. Jennifer Cranford is stage manager.
“The Best Man” will be performed June 18-21 and June 25-28 at the Florence Busby Corriher Theatre on the campus of Catawba College.
Tickets are $10.
Call 704-647-0999 for more information. Contact Katie Scarvey at 704-797-4270 or