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Farragut North

Who says they don’t write them like they used to? Playwright Beau Willimon’s 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 Vidal’s The Best Man updated with the sex and cynicism of cable’s Mad Men. Chris Pine (Star Trek’s 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 Dean–like favorite during the Democratic Iowa caucuses. In the midst of spinning his candidate’s record and seducing a young campaign intern (Olivia Thirlby), Stephen’s 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 Stephen’s candidate is a carefully orchestrated illusion: “You need to decide whether you want friends or whether you want to work for the president.” Stephen’s choice not only unmasks his true character but also serves as Willimon’s 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 Stupak’s 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

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