Is “The Best Man” Going to Win? – Interview

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An ideally timed race to the finish line, Gore Vidal’s political drama connects to the concerns and curiosities that Americans have for the 2020 election. In this story, two frontrunners spar for their party’s nomination. Set during the National convention, the delegates must weigh the merits between two candidates with widely opposing values. When a self-made, less-than scrupulous, senator and an upstanding intellectual former Secretary of State gain information about their opponents, the twist is planted for an unexpected outcome.

Mark Belnick plays former Secretary of State William Russell, one of the candidates running for president. No stranger to political intrigue, Belnick served as Deputy Chief Counsel to the US Senate Iran/Contra Investigation before embarking on a successful professional acting career that has earned him numerous stage and film credits over the past decades. He talked to us about why this story fits so well in the Los Angeles entertainment scene at this moment.

HR: What intrigued you most about this play?  

Belnick: The uncanny timeliness and relevance. I think that Gore Vidal was

one of America’s greatest political thinkers, commentators and satirists. He wrote THE BEST MAN during the Kennedy/ Nixon contest in 1960 and updated it for Carter vs. Ford in 1976. Yet, you can recognize antics from today, with a similar plot to our reality and the same gripping themes. On the surface, it is the story of two very different candidates for their Party’s presidential nomination: one who will do anything to win, and one who never thought he would do the same, until…well, I don’t want to give you a spoiler.

Mark Belnick as William Russell

HR: What’s the story beneath the surface?

Belnick: Beneath the surface, Vidal’s play is a deadly accurate look at the underbelly of American politics. Social media plays a role now that’s similar to 1960, when television first started becoming significant for the presidential election. It’s like a powerful narcotic that attracts users/voters far more than any reasoned consideration of the issues. As Vidal portrays it, with the power of television, personalities triumph over policies, gossip over issues, and the camera-ready candidate over the thoughtful leader. Vidal accurately predicted, back in 1960, where we were headed — and where we in fact have found ourselves today. The result is a drama that places a mirror on our politics and on us. I think that’s what makes it engaging theatre.

HR: Will audiences be more likely to relate to this if they come from one side of the aisle or the other, or is it presented in a bi-partisan way? 

Belnick: Vidal did not write this piece to favor any particular political viewpoint. His aim was to depict how our political system works,how ugly it can get and how far our presidential elections have veered from focusing on real issues as opposed to slander and mudslinging.

John Ruby as Joseph Cantwell

Vidal himself watched, with great concern, the very first series of televised presidential debates accompanied by massive TV advertising. Voting for “images” is a dangerous thing. As candidate Russell says in the play, “Image is a word from advertising, where you don’t sell the product but the image of the product, and sometimes that image is a fake.” The infection strikes at every political party and viewpoint. The only “bias” an audience will find in Vidal’s play is for truth, and issue-oriented politics. Without those elements, democracy gets reduced to a race for television ratings.

When: Opening at 8pm onSaturday, November 2 and running at 8pm on Friday and Saturdays, 3pm on Sundays through December 8, 2019(no performances November 29 –December 1).

Directed by Gary Lee Reed, additional cast members are Zack Carter* Martha Hackett,* Paul Morris III,* John Ruby, Aubrey Saverino,* Edwin Scheibner, Michael William Thompson, Ian Patrick Williams,* Rachel Winfree   
*Denotes AEA Member

Where: The Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd.,?Los Angeles, CA 90038

Tickets: $30. Reservations: (323) 960-5770 or online https://www.onstage411.com/sons

Ample street parking.