Geffen Playhouse, Los Angeles
On through 26 July
Everyone was a photographer last night in Westwood. News of Michael Jackson’s death spread like wildfire throughout the world. But all I could think about was the location. The late pop icon had been treated (and presumably was now resting) at the Ronald Reagan Medical Center at UCLA…just across the street from the Geffen Playhouse, which was my destination for the evening. News trucks were covering every spare inch, the traffic was thick and the parking lots had mysteriously jumped from $5 to $20 for the night. I couldn’t be bothered to fight it. I went, I forked over a 20, and still managed to get to downtown Westwood a scootch early.
Cell phones were snapping shots of the chaos, students brought out the good lenses, and the scene was rather unreal. So I took a minute to grab a slice at Enzo’s and saw Zachary Quinto taking a photo with a fan across the street. As I assumed, he was heading to the same spot as I. Quinto and his “Star Trek” counterpart, Leonard Nimoy were both at the Geffen last night to take in the Atlantic Theater’s production of “Farragut North,” starring Chris Pine and Chris Noth.
Its story takes place in the Des Moines winter as a tight race for the presidency is revving up. Stephen Bellamy (Pine) is a hot-shot press secretary at the age of 25, a true master of spin and strategy for his candidate and the campaign manager, Paul Zara (‘Sex and the City’s Noth). Enter an attractive young intern (Olivia Thirlby), a reporter from The New York Times, and an opponent with no qualms about backroom politics. Ambition, seduction and a razor-thin margin all collide to send a few young lives into a talespin over 24 short hours.
Beau Willimon’s script (which he is adapting into a feature for Warner Bros.) centers entirely on the lives of a few people, with acerbic jabs at both parties, the media and the clever game that plays out every four years in this country. Peppered with just enough snarkiness and likability, his characters and approach will make you wonder if he is a protegee of Aaron Sorkin, and his dialogue in the final moments is so brutal that it just might make David Mamet blush. And it’s all complimented by the sleek and simple direction of Doug Hughes, who knows enough to set up the scenes for us and then jump out of the way. Aside from the text, there is one other element that stands out well above the rest, and his name is Chris Pine.
Yes, the dude from “Just My Luck” and “The Princess Diaries II” and, of course, “Star Trek”…that one. Before Pine went all Hollywood, he earned a degree in English from UC Berkley and did two seasons at Williamstown. And, though you may not believe me without having seen this production, you should know that he is absolutely astounding. What begins as likabilitliy and a swagger (much like his James T. Kirk) ultimately becomes a manipulative, power-hungry, and sadly, lost young man.
“Farragut North” is an intensely enjoyable play, but it’s Pine’s show all the way. If you can’t make it to LA to have a look for yourself, hopefully the movie will get made right-quick with it’s current lead attached. This is what it means to see good theatre.