Conejo Players Theatre
351 W. Moorpark Rd, Thousand Oaks CA
Playing thru September 17, 2016
If you’re feeling like the political season has been dragging you through the muck and mire, you’re not alone. American audiences are no doubt in the mood for a positive message or wholesome diversion and a bit of entertainment to offset the inundation of an unusually negative election season.
While the current production of ‘Farragut North’ contains some worthwhile performances, unfortunately it has not been staged this time around to serve audiences as either diversion or entertainment.
Any successful theatrical production requires three essential elements: script, acting, and visual impact. Playwright Beau Willimon, creator of Netflix’s political drama House of Cards has provided a solid piece of writing. Following that, the acting of “Farragut’s” current production is anchored by two standout performances: Parker Harris as politico Stephen Bellamy, who carries the show from beginning to end with conviction and depth, and local stalwart John Eslick, who as Tom Duffy gives us a southern-tinged version of the creeps (a worthy mention also goes to Bryan White, whose cut-throat take on strategist Paul Zara has shining moments.)
Unfortunately the third department of visual impact is where ‘Farragut’ falters. Director Elissa Polansky has given her actors little more than an empty stage to work with. The set is sparsely decorated with oversized chess pieces that double as both decor and functioning furniture; we quickly get the metaphor as they’re moved from scene to scene. Then the gimmick wears thin, and the simplistic choice grows limiting to the cast and visually dull. A lack of identifying detail is thorough; a reporter enters without even a simple pen & pad or electronic tablet in her hand to remind the audience of her role.
With an impressive theatre’s full resources at their disposal, much more could have been done to remedy “Farragut’s” visual aesthetics. The insistence on the chess pieces, the stage might have been remedied with creative chess-themed effects. Projection would certainly have helped: a swarm of bodies moving about during the play’s airport terminal scene would have provided viewers with a sense of place – but four moved chess pieces are all we get. Similarly, when Parker beds young intern Molly (Katy Jarvis), only a bed is introduced and we’re left to wonder… are they at a motel? Someone’s house? The projection of a seedy no-tell motel sign or other establishing demarcation would help here.
Political strategists know that if a candidate has a good story to dress up – he’s a war hero, she’s a rags-to-riches story – voters are more likely to pay attention and follow thru to the ballot box. Similarly, if paying audiences are to endure a slog through the political gutter, the reward of an aesthetically pleasing show isn’t asking too much.
Thru September 17, 2016
Conejo Players Theatre
351 W. Moorpark, Thousand Oaks, CA
Tickets: 805-495-3715 or online at: