Political Animal” is part comedy sketch, aiming satiric arrows at the lunacies of politicians, and part psychological drama, focusing on one particular presidential candidate and the emotional need that drives him to seek the highest office. It has its moments as both, but the whole proves less than the sum of its rather disparate parts.
Author Douglas McGrath, whose recent credits include writing and directing the movie “Emma” and co-scripting with Woody Allen “Bullets Over Broadway,” has chosen to make a one-man show out of his play, as he takes on some 14 roles. The performer doesn’t let the author down, drawing clear distinctions among the George Bush-like main character, Farrell; a stalwart news anchor narrating an election-eve TV biography of the candidate; the candidate’s politically savvy wife; three very contrary Democratic primary contenders; a sleazy, suspender-snapping lawyer; and a live-for-the-moment male prostitute.
But the success of McGrath’s acting tour de force doesn’t make up for the inconsistencies of his script. For example, a touching scene, in which the prostitute acts out Farrell’s scenario of how he wishes his father had behaved, is followed by a flat, silly sequence in which we discover that the candidate, running unopposed since his embarrassed rival quit the race, has still managed to lose the election because not a single person cast a vote.
When the comic barbs do strike home, like those mimicking the contorted logic of politicians supporting the cigarette industry, making light of oil spills or putting down welfare, they still have a sketch-comedy broadness to them that remains at odds with the very specific, under-the-skin story of the protagonist.
Unable to make the text cohere, but still contributing to McGrath’s clever performance, is the swift direction of Peter Askin. He keeps the show moving between events on the stage and those delivered via the videos designed by Dennis Diamond. Costume designer Candice Donnelly shows a deft touch, providing the details that allow McGrath to quick-change among his impersonations. And scenic designer Rob Odorisio and lighting designer Phil Monat together create a visual harmony.