City of Conversation is a chronicle of the rise of polarization of our political parties—something we are feeling more than ever these days. It begins in 1979 during the time of “Georgetown dinners”—an acceptable social gathering where politicians of both parties hammered out legislation in a more friendly way than on the Senate floor.
The story is set at the home of Hester (played by Nan Macy) and her sister Jean (played by Forba Shepherd). Hester is a longtime supporter of liberal legislation, and unapologetically maintains an affair with Sen. Chandler Harris (played by Doug Powers). On the evening of the first scene, Hester is about to entertain Sen. George Mallonee (David Mosedale) and his wife Carolyn (Anna Lee). She is surprised by the arrival of her (adult) son Colin (Carey Shea) and his fiancée Anna (Emily Bohn). Hester, probably seeing herself in the young Anna, bears her fangs behind her son’s back when Anna appears a little too conniving. However, this evening, pieces have been put in place that will change Hester, Anna, and Colin—a forewarning of what will happen soon for politics in general. Anna choses to stay with the men during post-dinner brandy, and her own fledgling fangs begin to take a bite out of Hester’s comfy political influence.
There is some excellent acting here. As Hester, Macy is at her best during the second act. Where before she was the consummate hostess providing the sanctuary of a non-partisan meeting space, by 1987 she is more of a powerhouse herself, even in her convictions. Before, her manic smiles were for social lubrication, but later her own grit comes forward in her sincere desire to recapture the protections and liberties that had been won before the Reagan era began. By 1987, Colin and Anna have morphed into staunch Reagan Republican power players, much to the horror of the far left liberal Hester.
Emily Bohn as Anna also undergoes change. When she first met Hester, she was still just a girl with strong ideas on how to change the world. But she evolves into a far-right cutthroat willing to do the unthinkable by actually using her son as blackmail when she thinks Hester could influence the appointment of Robert Bork, a judge that is deeply important for the Regan regime. Bohn begins with a coquettish flair and ends up as an insecure tyrant even if she is still flush with her own sense of power.
Shea as Colin is also undergoes a transformation. Where before he was a fresh-faced college grad sporting a poncho, mane of long hair, and idealistic plans, he wilts under his overachieving wife, the tug between family and political party, and the uncertainty of his own job within that party. Finally, Shea gets to portray his character’s grown son, Ethan, who is reunited with his grandmother the night of Obama’s inauguration, his husband at his side (Bradley Lowe) (that must have rankled the ’rents). Shea’s distinction between what could be called three characters (young Colin, middle-age Collin, and adult Ethan) is quite well done.
If you aren’t a political animal (and I am not), the show could go over your head (I can barely remember Reagan—most of the references to movers and shakers left me in complete oblivion). But, it is a skilled production.
Through April 29, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 5 p.m.
Tickets $25; $20 students and seniors