The Body Politic
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
February 16, 2011
The idea at the heart of The Body Politic is simple: can an arch conservative and an equally arch liberal find romantic happiness together? I don't think it gives anything important away to tell you that playwrights Richard Abrons and Margarett Perry think they can; turns out that Trish Rubinstein (young advisor to Democratic presidential candidate Granville Parker) and Spencer Davis (young advisor to Republican presidential candidate Harley Grant) have more in common than they suspect. Political operatives, whatever their affiliation, are birds of a feather.
The Body Politic begins in the middle of a presidential campaign, right after a televised presidential debate. Both candidates and their high-level teams are gathered in the green room, waiting for the signal to leave. Grant and Parker, the candidates, are more or less dignified and polite, but their staffers—seniors Brunhilda Logan (R) and Viktor Spasky (D) and juniors Spencer and Trish—eagerly snipe away at each other. We realize quickly that Brunhilda and Viktor have a history, from a time when both were on the same side ideologically. And we suspect right away, too, that there's something developing between Spencer and Trish.
Spencer asks Trish for a date, ostensibly to bargain over the rules for the next TV debate. She accepts. Brunhilda and Viktor disapprove of the budding relationship. But Grant and Harley each see an opportunity. Can they convince the would-be lovebirds to do a little spying on the other camp while wooing?
The play charts the course of Spencer and Trish's romance, and it's an event-laden, up-and-down path that includes manipulations, betrayals, hot sex, and, at one point, Charlie Rose. I didn't ultimately find either character tremendously commendable or likable, but they do seem to be made for each other.
Meanwhile, there's a subplot involving the presidential aspirants. Parker isn't a church-goer and asks his opponent to keep religion out of the campaign. Grant has no intention of doing any such thing. Eventually, Parker gets linked to an atheist group. Is it a dirty trick? Is Parker actually an atheist? Would the American public ever elect an atheist? Abrons and Perry skim the surface of this interesting issue without going very deep. It's worth remembering that some of the presidents thought to be among the greatest—Lincoln and Jefferson are the most obvious examples—never identified with an organized church of any kind.
The Body Politic is a broad marriage of political comedy and romantic comedy, and Perry, who directs, keeps it moving deftly and swiftly. At the head of the two tickets are a pair of fine actors, Daren Kelly (Grant) and Brian Dykstra (Parker). The senior staffers, who felt to me like the most believable and interesting characters, are portrayed by Leslie Hendrix and Michael Puzzo—a well-matched pair who play them with assurance, vigor, and humor. In the central roles of Spencer and Trish, Matthew Boston and Eve Danzeisen are somewhat less persuasive, perhaps because they don't exhibit much natural chemistry, and perhaps because their characters, as written, are kind of hard to root for.
The minimalist set by Timothy R. Mackabee is exemplary, easing transitions between the many scenes. Lighting and sound, by Jesse Belsky and Daniel Kluger, respectively, serve the piece nicely, as well.