Matthew Boston and Eve Danzeisen in The Body Politic. Photo by Carol Rosegg.
BOTTOM LINE: Political differences lead to witty banter in this romantic comedy.
During the 1992 presidential election between Clinton and Bush, an unlikely romance blossomed between James Carville, the strategist behind Clinton’s campaign, and Mary Matalin, who was working on Bush’s campaign. These star crossed lovers serve as the inspiration behind At Hand Theatre Company's new bipartisan romantic comedy The Body Politic. Things do not work out quite as smoothly for the fictional characters at the center of this play, however.
Although this set up has been seen before -- the Carville/Matalin romance also served as inspiration for the strikingly similar film Speechless -- enough time has gone by to give freshness to this already traveled terrain (the play’s script provides multiple nods to the real life duo.)
The play opens with two opposing presidential canidates trapped together in a broadcast studio alongside their campaign staff. As the two opposing teams exchange barbs and quips, the youngest members of each team, Democrat Trish (Eve Danzeisen) and Republican Spence (Matthew Boston), begin a sexual tension-heavy flirt session that includes insulting each other through alliterative adjectives. In the following scene, we see them argue the merits of their political affiliations over martinis. Both the actors and the script shine during these one-on-one "debates."
When word of their possible romantic entaglement reaches both of their parties, the higher-ups encourage them to continue with the budding relationship as a means to spy on the enemy. Both Trish and Spence hesitantly agree to do so at the prodding of the presidential hopefuls. When Trish suddenly decides the two should fast track to the bedroom,
we can’t be sure if she is motivated by drunken lust or an opportunity to gain information.
Although our country is not currently in the midst of a large political election, many issues brought up during the course of the play feel quite timely, particularly with recent Tea Party criticisms of President Obama, including the recurring question of his religious affiliation. This issue is mirrored during the course of the play’s election as the Democratic candidate is accused of not being "Christian enough."
The Body Politic is heavy on clever repartee and accurately reflects the key issues that lead to such a large divide between political parties. Danzeisen and Boston both shine in their roles, using enough well-executed comedic timing to milk laughter from every joke. Danzeisen, in particular, lights up the stage with inextinguishable energy and a knack for physical comedy. Leslie Hendrix is also a source of much laughter as Brunhilda, a bitter Republican strategist who once played for the other team and now considers liberalism to be “childish.”
Still, the drama that ensues once the plot’s climax unfolds could have been stronger and more engaging had the play’s two lead characters, as well as their relationship, been further fleshed out. In the end we know so little about Trish and Spence, aside from their political affiliations and ambitions, that we do not become deeply invested in their union or in
the outcome of their relationship. In the end, however, the play is both timely and clever, and will surely be enjoyed by a politically aware audience.
(The Body Politic runs through March 6, 2011 at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street. Performances are Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7:15PM, Thursdays and Fridays at 8:15PM, Saturdays at 2:15 and 8:15PM, and Sundays at 3:15PM. Tickets are $35 and $24.50 for 59E59 members. For more show information and to purchase tickets, visit athandtheatre.com or 59e59.org.)