Michael Lamont
June 26, 2009 at 04:00 AM EDT
We gave it a B

For a play about the dark underbelly of politics to be great, it’s got to bring something new and unpredictable to the table. Farragut North, by former Howard Dean campaign staffer Beau Willimon, succeeds in that goal…for the most part. While the strong ensemble at Los Angeles’ Geffen Playhouse has flare, Willimon’s script lacks originality.

At its core, Farragut is a story about human morality, focusing on the downward spiral of hot-blooded young press secretary Stephen Bellamy (Star Trek‘s Chris Pine). The political message is a strong one, as most every character contributes to an abominable deterioration of trust in a jaded world ruled by selfishness. Bellamy and his vociferous boss Paul Zara (Chris Noth) are two men consumed by the election of a Democratic presidential candidate named Thompson. Bellamy’s loyalty falters when he fraternizes with an opposing candidate’s press secretary (Isiah Whitlock, Jr.), and it becomes clear that Bellamy’s job and his identity are dangerously blurred. As reflected in Pine’s increasingly frantic gestures, the story is less about politics and more about what they can do to a person.

While Pine gives depth to Bellamy as a man corrupted by politics, the plot is a rather bland mix of big-shot characters, political backstabbing, and clandestine affairs we’ve seen in countless other dramas that aim to show what really goes on in Washington. Farragut fares best when the focus is less on politics than on human drama, like the relationship between Bellamy and a promiscuous and level-headed 19-year-old intern, Molly (Juno‘s Olivia Thirlby). As the exception to an otherwise immoral lot, Thirlby admirably matches Pine’s animated character with a compassionate but firm composure. Likewise, Pine and Noth have a natural chemistry on stage, particularly at the height of the drama, and prove that a minimal set adorned with two small TV monitors hanging from the ceiling is more than sufficient when the acting is on par. B

(Tickets: (310) 208-5454 or www.geffenplayhouse.com)

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