The Legislative Process
nytheatre.com review by Danny Bowes
August 10, 2008
The Legislative Process takes a politely cynical look at the inner workings of government, following Dexter, an idealistic high school student, as he spends a summer working as a congressional page. Through observing the almost completely effortless manner in which his roommate Billy wins the attention, friendship—and eventually more—of several congressmen, and the sneering and opportunistic manner in which congressional staffer Chad gets him to run errands, Dexter's initial enthusiasm begins to wane. And then Dexter finds out what's really going on at the ominously named congressmen's private club "The Pork Barrel" . . .
In an election year, especially one which so prominently features a young, idealistic Washington outsider promising change, a play about powerful men doing bad things in the District of Columbia is especially timely. Clarence Coo's script hints that the bad things being done by these powerful men and their male teenage pages are of the sexual variety (a la the much celebrated IM practices of Rep. Mark Foley), but never spells things out. Ultimately, it is not the sex that bothers playwright and protagonist, but abuse of power.
The presentation is as spare and absent of sensationalism as the script. Director Mikhael Tara Garver keeps the focus on the acting, which is uniformly excellent: Christian T. Chan in particular pulls off the very difficult task, as Dexter, of portraying a buttoned-up idealist as a three-dimensional person. Justin Gillman is enjoyably (paradoxically?) icy and reptilian as Chad, who does most of his boss the congressman's work for him and cares only to move to the "big room" with the view of the Washington Monument. Grant Boyd has the hardest job of the three of them, as Billy is an underdeveloped character whose habit of passing off episodes from John Hughes movies as anecdotes from his own life is unexplained and a bit jarring; it doesn't really work as comic relief, not being particularly funny, and it has nothing immediately apparent to do with the world of the play. The '80s pop songs that play during scene changes are another, similar, odd touch. They're a little too obtrusive to be mere background music, but have no connection to the story.
These criticisms are relatively minor. The show itself is solid and well-mounted and the script—aside from the above-mentioned, decidedly minor eccentricity—is intelligent and refreshingly void of snark. The ending is a little sudden and anticlimactic, but if it were otherwise it would betray the tone of the rest of the show, which is restrained and sans histrionics. For audiences seeking a more intelligent and less melodramatic political fix than that offered by cable news, The Legislative Process is a very diverting way to spend 70 minutes. Also recommended is the entertaining "DC sex scandals" page on www.thelegislativeprocess.com, replete with Google maps of the locations of said scandalous trysts.