BENNINGTON, VT. —; Donald Trump. Hillary Clinton. Up 'til recently, Bernie Sanders. The names flow off tongues every day in this country, sometimes admiringly, often with acrimony, but almost never with indifference.
"Welcome to an election year," said Oldcastle Theatre Company producing artistic director, Eric Peterson. "And welcome to our next play of the summer, which we believe audiences will find very timely."
This Friday, Aug. 5, Oldcastle will open Anthony Giardina's "The City of Conversation," directed by Peterson. The play's themes center around family, politics, and the art of conversation — some would say deteriorating or lost art.
In that vein, Peterson said the show was "perfectly suited for a presidential election year and to address the state of political discourse today."
The action opens in 1979 in Washington, D.C., "back when people actually talked to each other," Peterson said. It continues through an entire generation, to 2009 on the day of President Barack Obama's inauguration.
Three decades ago, adversaries fought it out in Congress and then smoothed it out over drinks and hors d'oeuvres.
Peterson recounted the well-known vignette of how, in Washington during the early 1980s, Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill would visit the White House and President Ronald Regan. The two men, Irish-Americans, would have drinks, swap stories from their common upbringing and then make political deals.
"Those kinds of interactions just don't happen too much any more," Peterson said.
The play shows how everything was about to change.
There's a matriarch, too. Spanning 30 years and six presidential administrations, Hester Ferris — played by Oldcastle's beloved Christine Decker — throws Georgetown dinner parties that can influence Washington politics.
But her cherished son Colin — played by local actor Chris Restino — turns up with a go-getting Reaganite sweetheart, Anna Fitzgerald, and a new conservative world view. Hester must then make conflicting human choices between ideology and blood.
"Colin is smart, young and athletic, but no matter what he says or does he never lives up to his mother's expectations," Restino said. "This has always been a life struggle for him. Anna Fitzgerald has a completely different set of political views, which go against the way Hester raised Colin."
Peterson agreed in the assessment of this play as being "about family as well as the inner workings of government."
"It's about politics in a family and family in politics," he said. "It examines the ever-changing tapestry of American government and the people who shape it."
Longtime Oldcastle actor Jody June Schade will play Carolyn Mallonee, the wife of a conservative Kentucky senator, played by Richard Howe, Oldcastle's associate artistic director.
Schade said her character is a smart, politically savvy and socially aware conservative. Carolyn is also, undeniably, an adviser, albeit behind closed doors, to her husband.
"To prepare, we've spent a great deal of time discussing the political events of the different time periods during which the play takes place," Schade said. "This was in order to more fully understand the enormous weight on the shoulders of these people as they navigate this world both as politicos and as family."
"The City of Conversation," also looks at three different generations of women, each more comfortable navigating a liberated self, both personally and publicly, Schade said.
As such, Giardina's play also traces significant threads of social history.
"While poignant because of its political resonance, 'The City of Conversation' is, at its heart, a play about family," Schade said. "As Eric [Peterson] likes to say 'the best American plays are about family.' And this play delivers."
Peterson amplified on that idea by saying he was excited by the prospect of this play. Given the opportunity, everyone in the country should be seeing this play, given the tensions and rancor of this election year, he added.
"Part of the problem today with a deadlock in Congress is that members don't live in Washington anymore," Peterson said. "So many sleep in their offices or have small places and go back home on Thursdays. Their kids don't get a chance to play soccer together and their spouses don't know each other as well and thus don't get a chance to like each other, either."
The way Beltway politicians then treat each other today, Peterson continued, is almost always based on their ideological differences instead of their personal common ground.
On that note, Schade echoed Peterson, adding that family and beliefs don't have to be mutually exclusive, even on opposing sides.
"City of Conversation' is about finding the balance between honoring our loved ones and our families, while standing up for the ideals in which we believe. It's about the lengths to which we'll go in order to change the world for the better, no matter which side of the issue you're on."
Telly Halkias is an award-winning freelance journalist.