Remember the good old days of politics before filibustering and 24-hour news channels? City of Conversation, currently running at the Lincoln Center Theater, takes us back to that time. The play begins in the Carter administration, a period of time when negotiations were done behind closed doors (and to which we were not privy), and ends 30 years later during the Obama administration.
Hester Ferris, brilliantly played by Jan Maxwell, is Washington’s hostess-with-the-mostest. She supports liberal causes and candidates. When the play opens, we are about to join a dinner party that Hester and her sister Jean Swift (Beth Dixon) are having for a conservative Kentucky senator and his wife to try to sway his vote. Just before the senator arrives Hester’s son Colin and his conservative Republican girlfriend Anna (Kristen Bush) return from the London School of Economics. This is just in time to “crash” Hester’s party and plans. There is a clash of ideals and a battle of wills begins between mother and future daughter-in-law.
The battle becomes even more highly charged in the second half when Hester Ferris, who at this point is doting grandmother to Colin and Anna’s son, is secretly is working with Jean to help derail Robert Bork’s confirmation to the Supreme Court. Her son and daughter-in-law are working to support him.
Jan Maxwell’s Ferris changes from a pillar of strength one minute to being completely vulnerable the next. When she finally goes head-to-head with her daughter-in-law, threats and decisions are made which forever alter the construct of this family. This is really a play about family dynamics.
Anthony Giardina’s play and Doug Hughes’ (Doubt) directing are superb. Add the terrific cast and a beautiful set and you have a play that is one of the best I’ve seen this year. LAR
Mitzi Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center
Runs through July 6, 2014