Looking to wallow in cynicism for a while? You have a good opportunity with “Spin,” a plunge into the heart of darkness that is a modern political campaign; it is currently being presented by the Women’s Theater Company at the Parsippany Playhouse in Lake Hiawatha.
Written by Robert William Sherwood, the play was first produced in 2007. But it still seems, sadly, just as apt — maybe, in fact, more so — nine years later.
Barbara Krajkowski, the Women’s Theater Company artistic director, directed this production, which benefits from a powerhouse performance by Jonathan Fishman as a presidential campaign manager, Jerry. The show’s set is Jerry’s office, so he, and his desk, are at the center of nearly every scene. And he’s an intriguing figure, a ruthless operator but also a hapless, highly caffeinated everyman beset by forces beyond his control: his scheming opposing campaign manager, Mary (Nancy Kutzer); his own flawed candidate, Henry (Tom Morrissey); a debate in the near future that he’s nervous about; the looming threat of a sex scandal involving the candidate’s, Alexandra (Lauren Moran Mills); even an unseen wife who has just filed for divorce.
Plus, the phone in his office never stops ringing. It’s enough to drive a man insane. And Jerry may be headed there.
His quietly competent pollster co-worker Elizabeth (Meridith Johnson) supplies the cold, hard facts: “The numbers are what counts, and the numbers are good,” she reassures him at one point. But he seems like a lost, lonely creature, trying to hold the campaign together with chaos swirling around him.
In the first scene — introduced, as all the scenes are, by a pithy title on a video screen, which helps create some ironic distance — Mary blackmails him. She demands that his candidate withdraw and accept a place on the ticket as vice president, in return for her keeping a lid on the scandal. She only hints at what the scandal is about, though, so Jerry has to try to ferret out the truth from Henry, who is a bit of a blank slate, and the prickly Alexandra. Also, he’s not sure whether or not Mary is bluffing, because Henry is comfortably ahead in the polls, and this could just be a desperation move.
Jerry and Elizabeth strategize, even though they don’t really know what they’re fighting against. “We go after (the unknown accuser’s) past,” she says. “If he doesn’t have a past, we’ll make one up.” Henry mostly just sits, there, looking presidential; he’s a bystander in his own campaign.
Jerry stews, until he almost explodes. Elizabeth remains calm and collected. Mary goads. Henry and Alexandra begin to question their marriage.
I found the ending abrupt and unsatisfying, since nothing was resolved. But I think I know what Sherwood was getting out. In the world that these characters live in, it’s all just words, and spin. It’s impossible to know the truth. And even if you could, the truth is irrelevant. They have a campaign to win, after all.
“Spin” is at the Parsippany Playhouse in Lake Hiawatha through Oct. 23; visit womenstheater.org.