Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

Farragut North

The Vortex Theatre
Review by Dean Yannias

Ericka Zepeda and Jack Jackson
Photo by Ryan Dobbs
Writer Beau Willimon is well known in TV circles as the creator of the Netflix series House of Cards and was its showrunner for the first four seasons. Most likely, he got the job because he had written a savvy backstage politics play called Farragut North that ran Off-Broadway in 2008, and was revised by George Clooney and Willimon for a 2011 movie titled The Ides of March. With Clooney's clout behind him, it's no wonder that Willimon got the House of Cards gig.

Farragut North is the name of a Metro station in Washington, D.C. that is the epicenter of lobbyists, political consultants, and other behind-the-scenes players whose job it is to influence both politicians and electorates. Since what they do is secretive, most of us have no direct knowledge of how these people actually operate. Willimon does, since he worked for Chuck Schumer and Howard Dean. See this play and learn from an insider.

Willimon said that before he got to grad school at Columbia, he "didn't have the faintest idea how to truly write a play." Apparently he studied the ancient Greeks, because what he produced is a play in the classical style but for our time. It's a tale of hubris that adheres to the Aristotelian unities of time (it all takes place in 24 hours), place (Des Moines) and action (everything revolves around one character, who never leaves the stage). That character is Stephen Bellamy, the 25-year-old press secretary for a governor who is running for president, and the time is just before the Iowa caucuses.

The play opens with Stephen bragging about how he won a congressional campaign by labeling the opponent an anti-Semite just because he offhandedly used the phrase "putz head." Everyone loves Stephen, even the reporters who are opposed to his candidate, because he's good-looking and sharp. A 19-year-old intern wants to sleep with him. The campaign manager of another presidential contender wants to hire him away. Stephen is a star in the ascendant, and he knows it. He's dismissive of his assistant who might actually have some good ideas because Stephen can't fathom that someone else's ideas might be better than his own. If you know anything about ancient Greek plays, you know that Stephen has to get his comeuppance. (Although I prefer Farragut North, it turns out that The Ides of March is a pretty apt title too.) I don't want to reveal any more of the plot, because it keeps you guessing and that's what makes it enjoyable.

The director of this Vortex Theatre production, Lewis Hauser, has paced the play fluidly, and scene changes are literally just a couple seconds. (The only drawback to this is that Stephen never takes his three-piece suit off, never even loosens his tie until the final minutes, even though a night has passed.) The set by Linda Wilson has to accommodate scenes in two hotel rooms, a bar, a restaurant, a campaign office, and the airport, and it works effortlessly. Costumes by Carolyn Hogan are just right, as always. The lighting by Nick Tapia leaves a little to be desired. In a scene near the beginning, Stephen is in such darkness that his face can barely be seen. And I don't think it was intentional that at the curtain call, the only actor in a shadow was the one playing Stephen. If it was intentional, it's actually a very inspired touch.

I know that we're supposed to focus more on the performance than the appearance of an actor, but the role of Stephen really requires an attractive presence. (Chris Pine played him in a Los Angeles production and Ryan Gosling in the movie.) This production is lucky to have Jack Jackson, who is one of the handsomest actors in Albuquerque. You can see why everybody wants to get a piece of this Stephen. What I like about Jackson's performance is that he doesn't just make Stephen a cocky asshole. He portrays him as a guy who, although arrogant to be sure, has a smidgen of moral sensibility but is in over his head.

The other actors all do fine work. John Wylie is very good in a role that seems tailor-made for him. There are a lot of roles that Timothy Kupjack can't play because, as he says in his bio, he is "known for his distinct voice and appearance," but he is perfect here as the campaign manager of the opponent. Daniel Anaya is touching as the Mexican-American owner of a small restaurant that is failing. Owen Callis has a smallish hangdog part but shines at the very end. Alaina Warren Zachary is remarkably energetic as New York Times reporter Ida Horowicz. I think the role is usually cast with a younger actress so that we expect some unspoken flirtation between Ida and Stephen, but Alaina doesn't let the age difference get in the way. Ericka Zepeda is excellent as the intern, but she seems by nature too nice, not quite hard-edged or ambitious enough to have had the sexual history that the character has.

I think this is a very good play and a very good production, perfect for election season. I was appalled when I heard that on opening night, there were only seven people in the audience. (When I saw it the next night, there were about 25, still not enough.) Farragut North is not only a lesson in how politics is really played in this country, but a highly entertaining time at the theater as well. I hope it gets the audiences it deserves from now on.

Farragut North, through November 18, 2018, at the Vortex Theatre, 2900 Carlisle NE, Albuquerque NM. Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30, Sundays at 2:00. Tickets $19 to $22. For information and tickets, visit