The Best Man is a behind-the-scenes examination of the political maneuverings at a national party convention, as three candidates vie for their party’s nomination. It is set entirely in two hotel suites, those of candidates Russell and Cantwell. The play’s seven scenes rotate between the two suites, which are differentiated visually by different campaign placards and props. As the curtain rises, candidate Russell, his wife, and Jensen, his campaign manager, are in the midst of a throng of reporters and photographers. Russell, a strong, youthful looking man of fifty, fields the reporters’ questions in a wry, unconventionally clever manner that clearly causes his campaign manager some discomfort.
Once the reporters are gone, Russell begins to deal with the visitors and power brokers who will be critical in this very closely contested convention. The first of these, Mrs. Gamadge, has great influence among women voters, and although she agrees with Russell’s policies, she disapproves of his intellectual eccentricity. When Alice Russell returns, the audience learns that theirs is a marriage of political convenience, of “separate rooms, separate lives,” but that she believes in him as a potential president. Former president Hockstader enters through a back entrance; he is the man whose endorsement is critical to the outcome of the nomination process. A folksy old-time pol, Hockstader likes a drink and a good story, but he is also a consummate political operator. Although he has obvious affection for Russell, he refuses to reveal whom he will endorse that night, and before the end of the scene he also reveals that he is dying of cancer.
The action shifts to Senator Cantwell’s suite, where Mabel, Cantwell’s pretty blond wife, is watching the political coverage on television, smoking, cheering on her husband, booing Russell, and mocking Mrs. Russell’s hat. Even from the voice heard coming from the television, it is clear what a slick politician Cantwell is. As soon as he comes in, the audience learns that he and his aide Don Blades have some kind of dirt on Russell, something that Cantwell is...
(The entire section is 874 words.)