Gore Vidal’s ‘The Best Man’ Readies
Bow at TAMIU’s Sam Johnson Theatre
Gore Vidal’s “The Best Man,” the first offering in a new cooperative theatre venture between the Laredo Theatre Guild (LTG) and Texas A&M International University (TAMIU) will bow at TAMIU’s Center for the Fine and Performing Arts’ Sam Johnson Experimental Theatre on Thursday, Aug. 21 at 8 p.m.
Additional performances of “The Best Man” will take place at 8 p.m. on Aug. 22 and 23 and at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 24. It will serve as a preview of the alliance between the newly formed Laredo Theater Guild and TAMIU, which will formally kick off its season in fall 2009.
Tickets are $15 per person and $10 for students with ID and are available by calling 956.319.8610, or from any cast member. While tickets will be sold at the door, advance purchase is recommended, as seating is limited to 108 per performance.
The Aug. 21 performance will benefit the Lacey Cigarroa Keck Endowed Scholarship at TAMIU with all tickets $20.
LTG artistic director and spokesperson Joe Arciniega said the idea for the benefit performance came from the play’s cast and was approved by the LTG.
“We wanted very much to recognize young Lacey Cigarroa Keck, who passed away in late July, and have our performance support the TAMIU Scholarship that bears her name. Dr. Keck has been enormously supportive of our effort and we honor him and his family in this way, “ Arciniega said. Cigarroa Keck was the youngest daughter of TAMIU president Ray Keck and his wife, Patricia.
Intended for mature audiences, “The Best Man” is set in Philadelphia, July 1960, the day before the National Political Convention, at a time when the party nominee for the presidential election was often decided on the convention floor.
Vidal’s play is a taut, character-driven, drama about two warring presidential candidates who are rivals for their party’s nomination. Character assassination, double crossings, and indiscretions exist alongside humor, humanity, and hope, with a surprise ending for good measure.
The acclaimed author wrote “The Best Man” from a unique front row vantage point to many notable people of the era, including Adlai Stevenson, John and Jackie Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson, Katherine Graham, and others -- all woven into the play’s tapestry of characters.
The play is directed by José Flores and produced by Sam Johnson.
American Academy of Dramatic Arts (AADA) graduate Joe Arciniega appears as former Secretary of State William Russell, an aristocratic, Harvard-educated and wealthy man. Linda Howland is cast as his well-bred, elegant and fragile wife, Mrs. (Alice) Russell. Unhappily married because of his philandering, the Russells live separate lives, but are brought back together one last time to present the image of a potent political couple.
As the rival for their party's nomination, Senator Joseph Cantwell, portrayed by Los Angeles actor Rafael Orduna, is the young, aggressive, military veteran and man-of-the-people. Tami Summers is cast as his pretty and petty Southern wife, Mrs. (Mabel) Cantwell. Joe Cantwell vows he will stop at nothing to realize his life-long ambition to be president, and he proves it.
Two local theatrical directors are taking key roles in the production as Vernon Carroll portrays former President Arthur Hockstader, whose political endorsement means everything but promises nothing, and Joseph Crabtree is cast as Russell’s campaign manager, Dick Jensen.
The venerable political grande dame, Mrs. Sue-Ellen Gamadge, who can sway the collective women’s vote as she orders, is portrayed by Suzy Mayo.
Andrew Villarreal, in his final theatrical role in Laredo before departing to Los Angeles’ AADA, appears as Sheldon Marcus, a former service veteran with Cantwell who has potentially devastating information about him to share with the opposing candidate.
Completing the cast are talented community members Andy Alford, William Brown, Henry Flores, Kelsey Lidsky, Manuel López, Henry Mejia, Elisa Peña, John Wallace, and a special "appearance" by Laredo theater legend, Stanley Kielson.
TAMIU president Keck described the partnership as a bold venture with lasting ramifications.
“This is a bold initiative that looks to serve as a catalyst for a new spirit of theatrical performance, headquartered here at the University with encouraging ramifications for developing and sustaining a strong theatre education program here and a regular performance season,” Dr. Keck said.
Guild spokesperson Arciniega concurred, noting that he hopes that the community’s reaction to this first effort will provide a clear indication of its timeliness and potential for a robust future.
“This is a win-win partnership for all of us and we are most hopeful that Los Dos Laredos will embrace this initial offering and place us on a strong forward trajectory to developing a full season of offerings that will bring a broad and intriguing spectrum of theatre to life here,” Arciniega said.
For additional information on Gore Vidal’s “The Best Man,” call 319.8610.
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