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Former Norwalk Legislator Produces Play Inspired By Politics

John Atkin of Norwalk directs "The Best Man" at Curtain Call in Stamford. The play opens Thursday. Photo Credit: Contributed by Lou Ursone
John Atkin watches a rehearsal of "The Best Man" with Carol Foley, Ted Yudain and John Zimmerman. Photo Credit: Contributed by Lou Ursone
Director John Atkin, left, talks with actors Rick Harrington (center) and Frank Speranzo at a rehearsal for "The Best Man," which opens on Thursday at Curtain Call in Stamford. Photo Credit: Contributed by Lou Ursone

STAMFORD, Conn.. -- Norwalk’s John Atkin served for 10 years in the Connecticut legislature. While that experience was a long time ago, he is bringing the expertise he acquired to a most unusual setting in Stamford and the Curtain Call theatre.

Atkin serves as the director for “The Best Man”, which opened Thursday at Curtain Call. The play, authored by Gore Vidal in 1960, centers around two men trying to secure their party’s presidential nomination.

With his political experience, Atkin is the perfect choice to demonstrate how politicians interact. He represented the 140th state district in the House of Representatives from 1979-85, and served in the state senate from 1987-91 as the representative from the 25th district. He has also be an avid supporter of Curtain Call, where he sits on the board of directors and serves as treasurer.

“Working on the play definitely takes me back to my political days,’’ said Atkin, who is President of Silvermine International Books, which represents book publishers from around the world in United States markets. "I wasn't a delegate, but I attended two national conventions, and I was a delegate at state conventions. I was on the side of winning nominees and losing nominees. There were frequently some major battles for open seats. This play makes me reflect back to some of those days in the war room and trying to negotiate with delegates.”

Atkin was the director for “All My Sons” in 2015 and was the assistant director “Streetcar Named Desire” in 2013. He feels his legislative expertise helped him work with some of the actors in “The Best Man.”

“Being a state senator is not equal to being a candidate for President,’’ Atkin said. “But I’m also a C-Span nerd, and spent a lot of time in Washington. I was able to help nuance some of the actors to emulate senators. Some in a real way, some in a way that was more of a caricature. If a situation arose, I could show them how to be bombastic. My experience helped by seeing how individuals act in public and getting the characters to develop that way.”

According to Wikipedia, the plot centers around the Presidential primaries in 1960. The candidates are an “ethical” candidate, William Russell, and a Populist senator from the South, Joseph Cantwell. Both candidates seek the endorsement of the popular outgoing president, who delights in not revealing who he will endorse.

The play premiered on Broadway in 1960 and enjoyed a 15-month run. A Broadway revival in 2012 featured some top stages named, including James Earl Jones, who won a Tony award for his role in the revival. Candice Bergen, Angela Lansbury and John Larroquette also performed in the 2012 show.

Norwalk’s Frank Speranzo (Senator Joseph Cantwell) and Rick Harrington (Secretary William Russell) are among the featured actors for The Curtain Call production. Rob Rosado and Laurel Lettieri, also from Norwalk, also have major roles in the play along with Morgan Graham Wilson (Fairfield) and Deborah Burke (Stamford). The assistant stage managers, Carol Foley and Bernadette Gray, are also Norwalk residents.

The play brought back fond memories for Atkin of his work in government. “I miss it,’’ he said. “I felt like I made a difference. At times it was frustrating. There was legislation you thought was critically important and it would take a few years for it to go any where. Sometimes things moved pretty quickly. I enjoyed the legislative process and working with people on both sides of the aisle. I also enjoyed meeting constituents and heading out to to events. A lot of that was enjoyable.”

The national political climate might be raw and nasty heading into the November election, but the play will help people find humor in politics, at least for one night. Atkin said the cast has been practicing four nights a week since the end of July. There will be 12 performances of the show over the next three weeks.

“I think people will enjoy it,’’ Atkin said. “It’s really a break from this political season. Gore Vidal is an excellent writer. He has a way with words and satire. I think the audiences will enjoy the political intrigue and the humor. They’ll see an excellent production by a talented group of 14 actors who have put their all into the show.”

For more information and to purchase tickets, click here to visit the Curtain Call website.

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