Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A Washington Dinner Party

Horizon Theatre’s City of Conversation: Politics Can Be Fun

“If you do not find within yourself that which you seek, neither will you find it outside. In you is hidden the treasure of treasures. Know thyself and you will know the Universe and the Gods.”                            The Oracle at Delphi

By Doc Lawrence

ATLANTA-Just hours after watching the HBO production of “All the Way,” featuring mesmerizing performances by Bryan Cranston as Lyndon Johnson and Frank Langella portraying Richard Russell, the elegant senator from Georgia, I was primed for more tales of Washington. Horizon Theatre’s The City of Conversation, a two and one-half-hour play from Anthony Giardina, took me to an exquisitely appointed Georgetown home beginning with the last days of Jimmy Carter in the White House to the first inauguration of Barack Obama.

Dominated by cerebral matron Hester Ferris, masterfully performed by Tess Malis Kincaid, every man, woman and child gets their comeuppance through her wit, intelligence, stubbornness and strongly held beliefs. Without Hester, this play could become a showcase of empty minds, blind ambition and temporary relationships. Imagine Harold Pinter with a play about a Georgetown dinner party.

Hester has more than an inkling of Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, John Locke, Eleanor Roosevelt and others whose thoughts and efforts created the best of America. She presents a convincing case that an ill-conceived Supreme Court nomination is wrought with danger. It’s not enough to parade potentials who are just lawyers with a good resume or empty suits posing as jurists. These are pigs in a poke. Take no chances, Hester commands, armed always with unlimited pours of Cognac and Bourbon.

Every memorable dinner should have one provocative guest. Hester would be mine, deviously seated beside the most pompous blowhard. Entertained by one magnificently charming woman, here’s a dinner for the ages.

The other adults we meet during these new mornings in America are homogenous government drones with degrees (law, finance, banking) from the best universities. Steeped in everything superficial, they have a vulture’s eye for prestigious jobs, seats of power, good sex and a victory at all cost every now and then. Hester’s grandson, a victim of all this, grows up to be better, a public school teacher with different life choices. His career path was influenced by what must have been a painful childhood overseen by his shrill and irritating parents who predictably split before he was emancipated.

Much like the Oracle at Delphi, Hester shares a glimpse of America’s future. There are hints that nothing can withstand the force of ideas whose time has come. Time marches on. Just before the final curtain, she leaves the stage on the arm of a new young friend, headed off to dance at an inaugural celebration with a new generation of men and women who are quite different than those at her legendary dinners.

Hester adapts well. Can we?

Strong performances by Carolyn Cook as Hester’s sister, Chris Kayser as Hester’s lover Senator Chandler and Rachel Garner in a dynamite performance as a ambitiously defiant daughter in law all tightly directed by Justin Anderson make this a compelling play for those who wonder when Washington will break off from the continent to float away down the Potomac.

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