Playing Politics

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Belfry opens 2012-2013 season with Pulitzer Prize play ‘State of the Union’

Grant Mathews (Gavin Rulon), center, contemplates his next political move as Kay Thorndyke (Tonya Fenimore) and Jim Conover (Duane Leatherman) wait to hear this thoughts.

The Hamilton County Theatre Guild wants you to cast your vote in favor of its 2012-2013 season opener, “State of the Union” – a sharp challenge to all Americans who are interested in the kind of government they’re getting and the kind of government they think they deserve.

“Anyone who believes in the U.S., our political system and the right to vote really has to see this show,” said Director Carla Crandall. “It says everything we are supposed to do – look at the candidates, be aware of where our country is at right now, and vote.”

“State of the Union” is a satirical look at political ambition, moral principles and romantic intrigue. Set in 1948, the play follows Republican candidate Grant Mathews as he prepares his presidential run.

“It’s a lot of fun pontificating without the real stress of people coming to me,” joked Gavin Rulon, who plays the lead character in his seventh Belfry performance.

Several special interests compete for Mathews’ attention on the campaign trail and he begins to struggle with the issues of politics and principles. But he finds comfort in his estranged wife, Mary, who has been brought in for use as a campaign prop – and turns out to be the voice of reason.

“Grant’s character is very committed to his cause but it erodes over the course of the first and second acts as he begins to worry about what is best to get him elected,” said Rulon. “Mary is his compass – the hero. She’s the moral compass for everyone else. It’s neat to be a character influenced by her.”

With politics in the air and Americans prepare to elect the leader of the next four years, the actors believe now is the perfect time and setting for the production.

“It’s the best time to have this play,” said Barb Weaver, who plays Mary Mathews.

“You’re never going to see a change in how politics work until the consumer demands it,” Rulon added.

While the play was written in 1946, “State of the Union” is still relevant for contemporary audience.

Weaver said the play has made her more aware of the faults in the system.

“It’s sort of sad and amazingly it’s still relevant,” said Weaver, who is acting in her seventh Belfry show. “It still has the same political issues today. It speaks to the moment – what’s happening right now. There are a lot of layers to it,” added longtime Belfry actor Duane Leatherman, who said he enjoys the show’s rich characters. “I love the (Jim) Conover role. He’s a manipulator but has a soft side he shares with Mary,” he said.

The play has also given its actors a chance to reevaluate their beliefs on the political system.

“I’ve voted Democrat and Republicans in my lifetime,” said Rulon. “I try to look at the candidate and what they are saying.”

“There are a few honest men, but not enough,” added Leatherman. “Democrat or Republican, everyone is out for the own special interests. They can’t look beyond their own agenda.”

Crandall has dedicated the show to the memory of Jane Campbell – two of them. Frances Jane Campbell was an enthusiastic patron of the Belfry and served as the secretary for many years until her death in February. Jane Campbell was a founding member of the Belfry with her husband, Frank. Crandall was asked for years to direct this show by Jane Campbell before her passing in 2008.

“I revisited the script and realized why she wanted me to do this show,” Crandall said.

Crandall said the show “holds true today as well as when it was written.” She likes how the playwrights make the audience look at themselves and politics.

“You don’t need to be a Democrat or Republican to come watch this show,” said Crandall. “We have a wonderful cast, a dedicated cohesive group of people who see the value of informing the public as well as entertaining them.”

The Basics

What: “State of the Union”

Where: Belfry Theatre, 10690 Greenfield Ave., Noblesville

Dates: 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Oct. 12 and 13; 2 p.m. Sunday and Oct. 14

Cost: $15 for adults, $12 for children 12 and younger

Director: Carla Crandall with assistant director James Williams

Cast: Gavin Rulon, Barb Weaver, Tonya Fenimore, Eric Barker, Duane Leatherman, Brian McCarley, Kevin Shadle, Pam Young, Horace Tucker, Anne Auwaerter, Ryan Conkin, Sonja Distefano, Daniel Shock, Ken Dorsey and Steven Marsh.

Plot: The 1946 play is a delightfully fresh satire on America’s favorite pastime – politics. The play is the ultimate Washington power struggle about political ambition, moral principles and romantic intrigue.

History: State of the Union is a play by American playwrights Russel Crouse and Howard Lindsay about a fictional Republican presidential candidate. It premiered on Nov.14, 1945 at the Hudson Theatre on Broadway, ran for 765 performances, and closed on Sept. 13, 1947. Both playwrights received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for their work. In 1948, the play was adapted for a film directed by Frank Capra.

Reservations: Call 773-1085 or visit www.thebelfrytheatre.com


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