Reviewed by Jeanette Toomer
Presented by the New Federal Theatre at the Abrons Arts Center/Harry DeJur Playhouse, 466 Grand Street, NYC, Nov. 2-26.
The New Federal Theatre's production of "Conflict of Interest" proved an intense political drama with a solid cast of actors. Jay Broad's 1971 play crackles with fiery dialogue and confrontational exchanges between powerful figures.
Al Freeman, Jr. portrayed an embattled Supreme Court judge as a man of integrity and conscience reluctant to surrender to political control. Bill Cain as the Chief Justice was a deliberate truth-seeker and friend to the judge. Count Stovall was perfect as a loyalist, persuasive supporter, and backroom dealmaker.
On the other side of this political battlefield stands the President of the United States, played with consummate authority and self-importance by John Wilkerson. He advocates for an inquiry by the Senate Judiciary Committee into Judge Balding's finances. Harold Scott as Senator Thaddeus Jones emerges as the president's strongest ally and stalwart confidante.
Arthur Bartow delivered as journalist Joe Farnsworth, who stirs up intrigue by securing incriminating information on the president that may be enough to force him to halt the inquiry. Ultimately, Farnsworth must relinquish his plan, because it turns out that his son, played innocently by Doug Olear, stands in the crossfire.
In supporting roles, Ellen Holly exuded class, warmth, and intelligence as the judge's wife. As the president's aide, Lisa Bostnar held her own. Bob Adrian and Len Stanger seemed interchangeable as senators. Cullen Wheeler and Greg Jackson rounded out the cast.
Broad doubled as director with great results. His play's only flaw is too many clichés in the dialogue; still, the overall effect is high political drama, complete with hidden agendas.
Set designer Robert Joel Schwartz worked magic with gray walls and various arrangements of modern furniture to convey the Oval office, the Senate office building, and an executive hotel suite. David Segal provided lighting patterns for distinctive flooring.