Allen Drury’s brilliant novel, Advise and Consent, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1960. In it, the weaselly Senator Freddie Van Ackerman of Wyoming threatens to expose a gay liaison which the upright Senator Brigham Anderson of Utah had during the war if he didn’t vote the right way on a nomination before the Senate. Van Ackerman’s despicable actions have fatal consequences.
But there is no evil in fiction which cannot be topped in real life. Six years previously, worried that his side would lose the Senate Majority in the next election, New Hampshire Republican Styles Bridge threatened that if Wyoming Senator Lester Hunt (D.) did not resign, the conviction of Hunt’s son for homosexual activities would become an issue in his reelection campaign. This also had fatal consequences.
Playwright Jean Bordewich, a longtime Congressional staffer, has put together an hour-long recreation of this disgraceful incident. It is straightforward enough: the oily Bridges (Scott Cummings), worried that Senate Majority Leader Robert Taft is dying and that the Senate will soon be in the hands of the cunning Democrat Lyndon Johnson, hatches a plan with his comic minion, Senator Herman Welker from Idaho (Gary DuBreuil). They will go after Senator Hunt (Terry Loveman), a principled opponent of Joe McCarthy, and get him to resign; thereafter the Republican governor will appoint another Republican, cementing the majority.
Fortunately for Bridges, Hunt’s son “Buddy” (Brice Guerriere) has just been arrested for soliciting an undercover cop. While first offenses of this nature are generally dismissed — and Buddy’s was initially — Welker gets the cops to prosecute him, and he’s fined $100. Thereafter, Bridges, through his minions, lets Hunt know that if he does not resign Buddy’s conviction will be used to smear the Senator during the next campaign.
Written by Jean P. Bordewich
Details and tickets
The most interesting thing about this play is Buddy’s efforts to come to grips with his feelings, which he talks out with a reporter and former lover (Michael David Anderson), who also serves as the play’s narrator. Buddy reminds us that in the 1950s, it was virtually impossible for a gay or bisexual man to recognize his own sexuality, so degenerate was the inclination considered.
The rest of the story is, well, not so great. The terrific thing about Advise and Consent is that, except for Van Ackerman, all the characters are complex individuals, noble and ignoble both, just like us. In HUNT, everyone is dismayingly one-dimensional, and sounds the same note throughout. This is particularly consequential for the character of Lester Hunt himself, who is so annoyingly noble that he rejects an offer from President Eisenhower to give him a high-paying, lifetime commission out of hand. Having made Hunt so upright and indomitable at the play’s beginning, Bordewich makes it hard to believe his final deterioration, which takes place only over the play’s final few minutes. When he takes a gun out of his pocket, it stuns and baffles us. He carries a gun to his Senate Office?
I realize that Advise and Consent is 614 pages (my copy is, anyway) and HUNT is only an hour. But no matter how much time a playwright has to tell her story, she must make it convincing — even if it comes from the pages of real life.
In the production I saw, the actors delivered their speeches well (Cummings, sleazy and chilling both, and Guerriere were particularly good), but did not react easily to each other. When the acting is good, the dialogue appears to arise out of natural causes, impelled by the character and the situation. Here it seemed that the dialogue was impelled by the script. (I except the work done between Loveman and Suzanne Martin, playing Hunt’s wife Nathelle, which seemed entirely unforced). This may improve later in the run.
I must also say that the production was not well served by the sound design, in which loud static-y sounds intermittently faded in and out (representing, I believe, the Wyoming wind) and 50’s-style country music overlaid some scene changes.
Bordewich has done us a service by bringing our attention to this blot on the history of our Congress. She would do this play a service by slowing the pace, adding nuance, and allowing it the time necessary to tell itself.
HUNT . By Jean P. Bordewich . Directed by Kristin Shoffner, assisted by Carson Collins . Featuring Terry Loveman, Suzanne Martin, Brice Guerriere, Scott Cummings, Gary DuBreuil, and Michael David Anderson . Lighting design by Colin Dieck . Costume design by Julie Cray-Leong . Sound design by Niusha Nawab, with original music by Josh Harty . Produced by Ms. Bordewich . Reviewed by Tim Treanor.