Most dramatists would kill to have a play revived every few years. One solution is to write an imperishable masterpiece; even better if it becomes a set text on the school or university syllabus. But a more reliable method is to choose a subject that excites cyclical interest — a tactic demonstrated by the late Gore Vidal.
Vidal, who died last month, was always better known for novels, essays, screenplays, quips and controversies. But he also created a few pieces for the stage, and a new production of his 1960 drama The Best Man has been playing at the Schoenfeld Theatre in New York throughout the summer. Impressively, this is the second Broadway staging in just over a decade.
Never short of self-confidence, Vidal would attribute the popularity of The Best Man to the brilliance of the script. But, while it does display the writer’s remarkable facility with one-liners, its durability is down to the fact that it’s set during a presidential nominating convention in an American general election year. As a result, every time Americans are choosing their next president, the play has come to tick the box for New York, Los Angeles or regional theatres. “It gets done somewhere every four years without fail,” Vidal once told me in an interview.
It helps that — because the competitive psychologies and even policies of US politics have changed surprisingly little since the 1960s — The Best Man hasn’t dated, although successive directors have added subtle period tweaks. In the current Broadway staging, for instance, the character of a former president (whom Vidal based on Eisenhower) is played by an African-American actor, James Earl Jones, which adds an Obama, or even post-Obama, spin to the plot…
Lawson concludes: “And it’s perhaps some consolation for the loss of Gore Vidal that — unless his prediction of a future American president suspending democracy proves to be accurate — The Best Man will be a part of every election cycle.
- Aug. 22, 2012