It’s election night, and Sen. Laura Smith (Susan Wilder) has lost. She’s a traditional, conservative Republican. Now, she’s out of work. The people have spoken, and Sen. Smith is done.
Sound familiar? While it may be seeped in truth, The War Party is entirely fictional. At least, on the surface…
Wilder’s Smith may instantly draw comparisons to defeated Libby Dole or helmet-headed Kay Bailey Hutchinson, but the comparisons between our the senators are purely in politics. Smith is a political pit-bull, who has been around Capitol Hill for a long, long time. Even in overwhelming defeat, the lady is poised and coiffed. So much so that you’re never sure if she’s happy, hysteric or hella-mad about the debacle.
Lowly campaign crony Jessie (Meghan Heimbecker) is the only person at Smith’s dismal defeat party. Young Jessie is bursting to spend time with her political hero, even if the grand dame isn’t a victor. Jessie is like so many apple-cheeked college kids who are thrown into the fires of every political campaign. Her opinions and ideas are uncluttered by the cold reality of politics. The jaded Sen. Smith is simply happy for the company—any company! She has no patience for Jessie’s post-mortem opinions, but she is planning to get mind-shatteringly drunk and Jessie’s going to be her party-partner. Dropping by this two-people pity-party is former president Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who brings some spectral sage advice (honestly).
After the last two years of non-top electoral antics, there’s a chance the average theatergoer might turn and run screaming in the other direction instead of choosing to see The War Party. The thought should cross your mind—but, The War Party’s insightful satire and witty insights make it the perfect post-election play. Wilder’s performance is nuanced enough that she straddles the caricature effortlessly. Newcomer Heimbecker is alternates between eager and enigmatic, her secrets later motivating revelations from all parties.
My only fault with the production would be Timothy Moyer’s FDR, a role I never felt moved beyond a believable accent and a wheelchair. In a play with such lofty ideas and emotions, a ghostly appearance by FDR shouldn’t remind me of a scene from Annie.
Thankfully, director Rebecca Wright keeps the dramatic focus on our two leading ladies. The champagne flows, tongues start to wag and the truth starts to come out. Don’t look for any damnation of the GOP’s values, or any attacks on conservative beliefs. Without examining Smith’s politics, The War Party effectively and amusingly gives us a glance into the moral quagmire of running for office. Smith’s beliefs aren’t held up for examination; they are her passions. Whether you believe her pro-this and anti-that ideas have merit or not, you’ll find the study of her fascinating. Regardless of your personal beliefs or politics, The War Party an entertaining dramatic diversion.
The War Party
Through November 23
InterAct Theatre Company
2030 Sansom St.
Philadelphia, PA 19103