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About The Best Man

The play premiered on Broadway in 1960 and was nominated for six Tony Awards, winning five including Best Play. Revived in New York in 2001 and again in 2012 it won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play on both occasions.

William Russell, the former Secretary of State, is a wit and scholar with high liberal principles. Joseph Cantwell is a ruthless and hard-driving young man who will let no scruples stand in the way of his ambitions. Arthur Hockstader is the outgoing President, who loves politics for its own sake and is determined to have the final say in the selection of his party's candidate. Both candidates try to get the endorsement of this popular outgoing President, who enjoys not telling them which one he'll endorse.

In his review of the original 1960 Broadway play for The New York Times, Brooks Atkinson wrote that the play is a "political melodrama that comes close enough to the truth to be both comic and exciting” and that Vidal "knows how to put together a plot that is both amusing and engrossing."

Retrieved from

24th September to 1st October 2016

  • Genre: Drama

  • Playwright: Gore Vidal

  • Director: Peter Nethercote

  • Performances: 6


Was the final choice the best man for the job? This is the question the audience will ponder as the curtain falls on Gore Vidal’s play of political intrigue The Best Man.

Ballarat National Theatre selected this play twelve months ago to coincide with the protracted USA primaries and presidential elections precisely because its subject – the plotting and shenanigans behind the staging of a party’s convention would have so much relevance.

Despite the 2016 USA primaries concluding by the time The Best Man opens at the Courthouse Theatre on September 24, the parallels of this play, depicting a fictional primaries season in July 1960 will no doubt resonate in many advanced western democracies including Australia.

Michael Potemra’s article for the National Review (April 2016), On Contested Conventions: May ‘The Best Man’ Win concludes that each audience member “can decide for him- or herself whether the author meant the phrase ironically”.

What personality characteristics make for a best presidential nominee? Win-at-all-costs scheming ruthlessness, basic decency, or also-ran blandness? Form your opinion as The Best Man plays out on the Ballarat National Theatre stage.

About the Director

Peter Nethercote


The American playwright, Gore Vidal, was a very successful writer of plays, novels and essays. He was a public intellectual known for his patrician manner, epigrammatic wit, and polished style of writing. He was a prominent figure and outspoken critic who ran for political office himself.

His depiction of the shenanigans behind the scenes of a presidential campaign are based on intimate knowledge and experience as well as his personal opinions and ideological standpoint.


Mark Courneyea

Plays Former Secretary of State William Russell

Mary Rose Mclaren

Plays Alice Russell

Trevor Day

Plays Dick Jensen

Greg Robertson

Plays Former President Arthur Hockstader

Simon Carroll

Plays Senator Joseph Cantwell

Liana Emmerson

Plays Mabel Cantwell

Christine Holmes

Plays Mrs Sue-Ellen Gamadge

Nathan Brown

Plays Don Blades

Matt Mercer

Plays Senator Carlin

Mick Zala

Plays Sheldon Marcus

Olivia French

Plays Catherine

Peter Joyce

Plays a Reporter

Joe Baxter

Plays a Reporter

Janelle Johnson

Plays a Reporter

Josh Lloyd

Plays a Reporter

Tony Macguiness

Plays Dr Artinian


Review of Gore Vidals “The Best Man” BNT24 Sept-1 Oct 2016.

If Director Peter Nethercote chose the play “The Best Man” in order to prep us all for the coming American Presidential Election then it was a brilliant idea. It is a marvellous window into the hurly burly and razzmatazz that we all expect to see in the American political bullring.

The play concerns the wheeling and dealing that goes on behind the closed doors of the two Presidential Candidates’ neighbouring hotel suites, shortly before the final Ballot for the Candidate, and how they and their Supporters must manoeuvre to keep their murky pasts from the unsuspecting Public. The two Candidates, Secretary of State William Russell with his wife Alice, (Mary-Rose McLaren) and Senator Joe Cantwell, with wife Mabel, (Liana Emmerson) are well portrayed as two contrasting characters; William as the upright type reluctant to dish the dirt on his opponent, and Joe as the “whatever it takes” type who will do anything to win. Mark Courneyea and Simon Carroll succeed admirably in portraying these differing men and the moral dilemmas that they grapple with in their differing ways. The final outcome is a surprise that I cannot it is a state secret.

The supporting cast includes some very satisfying characters; an ailing but wily ex-president, still full of political fire (Greg Roberts), who knows the ropes, and that “You gotta pour God all over everything like Ketchup” to succeed, and Senator Clyde Carlin, (Matt Mercer),
a stentorian type who looks and sounds every inch a Real Senator. Well cast also is the busybody Socialite Mrs Sue-Ellen Gamadge (Christine Holmes) whom no politician can afford to ignore. The two “witnesses” to the candidates’ secret pasts (Dr Artinian; Tony McGuinness, and Major Sheldon Marcus; Michael Zala), together with the candidates’ two ‘Minders’ (Don Blades; Nathan Brown, and Dick Jensen: Trevor Day, help to complete this smart stage production.

It is the Chorus that can add greatly to the atmosphere and “feel” of a production, and here the offstage/onstage babble of Reporters and Paparazzi lend so much to the feel of this play as they, crowding at the door, Burst into an urgent clamour immediately the hotel door is opened, only to be instantly silenced when the door is slammed shut. Similarly the music is well chosen with its selection of Military Band and fife-and-drum themes evoking the times.

On stage The Best Man is done with surprisingly realistic American accents....always a hard trick to carry off. This very pleasing production shows Peter Nethercote’s trademark careful directing hand and attention to detail: the action is well-paced and interesting, and this reviewer left well satisfied.

John Williams