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Vortex wins with timely political drama

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Beau Willimon’s trenchant 2008 political drama “Farragut North” – currently receiving a high-octane revival at The Vortex Theatre – was made into a hit movie in 2011 with the tile “The Ides of March.” The film title should clue one (at least the Roman history buff or Shakespeare fan) that this is a drama of ambition and tragic downfall, as it surely is.

Instead of Julius Caesar, however, the tragic hero here is Stephen Bellamy, a 25-year-old boy wonder press secretary for an up-and-coming Democratic presidential candidate (modeled on 2004 Democratic candidate Howard Dean).

This production is timed to coincide with the upcoming midterm elections, but this is not what you will see in the media. This is strictly behind the scenes strategic electioneering, and it’s pretty ugly, but also riveting to watch. The “Ides of March” in this case is a clandestine meeting between Stephen and the Republican rival’s campaign manager, Tom Duffy (nicely played by Timothy Kupjack, an actor who has gotten much better in recent productions).

Bellamy is not murdered, like Julius Caesar, but he is destroyed, and with the type of slick, below-the-belt political intrigue that a jaded electorate has come to expect from either of our political parties.

Stephen is a challenging role, and although not yet a very experienced actor, Jack Jackson acquits himself admirably. He nicely captures his character’s odd mix of idealism and cynicism, and is facile with Willimon’s carefully calibrated linguistic rhythms.

Director Lewis Hauser has cast two of Albuquerque’s more experienced actors in the juicy roles of campaign manager Paul Zara and New York Times reporter Ida Horowicz. John Wylie is perfectly cast and superb as Stephen’s crude boss Paul while Alaina Warren Zachary, made to look much younger than she is, is excellent (as usual) as the reporter who is as unscrupulous about landing a good story as the political strategists are at winning elections.

The play takes place in multiple locations around Iowa and Washington, D.C., and most of the set – a table at a restaurant, a hotel room, etc. – remains on stage throughout, which allows for greater fluidity of movement and rapid flow. The light design is too dark, perhaps to mask the parts of the set not being used in any given scene. Some of the blocking is awkward. For instance when Molly says, “It must be nice to be lying in bed with a 19-year-old girl” it was strange that Molly and Stephen were not in bed at that moment. Likewise, at one point Stephen sits directly in front of Molly, completely blocking her from view, at least for some of us. Had he sat stage left of her every person in the audience could have discerned Molly’s every expression.

But these are minor quibbles. This is a well-crafted and truthful political drama acted with intensity by a talented ensemble. Willimon was head writer for the first four seasons of the hit TV show “House of Cards,” and if that type of down and dirty political drama is your cup of tea, you should enjoy this production very much.

“Farragut North” is playing through Nov. 18 at Vortex Theatre, 2900 Carlisle NE, Albuquerque. Go to vortexabq.org or call 247-8600 for reservations.

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