Who says they dont write them like they used to? Playwright Beau Willimons enjoyable if facile romp in the cesspools of backroom presidential-primary electioneering is a throwback to a species of earnest, political-insider melodrama thought extinct with the onset of the 60s think Gore Vidals The Best Man updated with the sex and cynicism of cables Mad Men. Chris Pine (Star Treks new James T. Kirk) stars as Stephen Bellamy, an ambitious, 25-year-old wunderkind press spokesman, who, under his mentor, campaign manager Paul Zara (the excellent Chris Noth), works for an idealistic, albeit unseen Howard Deanlike favorite during the Democratic Iowa caucuses. In the midst of spinning his candidates record and seducing a young campaign intern (Olivia Thirlby), Stephens confidence is shaken and his loyalty tested when rival campaign manager Tom Duffy (standout Isiah Whitlock Jr.) urges him to defect by suggesting that the apparent lead of Stephens candidate is a carefully orchestrated illusion: You need to decide whether you want friends or whether you want to work for the president. Stephens choice not only unmasks his true character but also serves as Willimons coda for what lies at the rotten heart of national politics. Director Doug Hughes polished, high-octane production (imported from its New York premiere) benefits from the flash and circumstance of David Korins network-newslike set and Joshua White and Bec Stupaks animated video projections. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; Tues.-Thurs., 7:30 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; through July 26. (310) 208-5454.
Tuesdays-Thursdays, 7:30 p.m.; Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 4 & 8:30 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m. Starts: June 24. Continues through July 26, 2009