Race, class, war, a failing economy, and a referendum on the most unpopular administration in modern history have led to a political landscape that feels more like a serial soap opera than just another round of voting. But of all the issues, it's gender that's received the most attention. Between Hillary Clinton's historic run and then the Republicans' appallingly cynical choice of a spooky "hockey mom" (from my home state of Alaska, no less!), women are now at the epicenter of the political conflagration.All of this is good news for Vince Delaney, whose new play, The War Party, opens this week at Seattle Public Theatre. The War Party focuses on two women, a seasoned Republican candidate who's just lost her bid for re-election, and an ambitious young aide who still believes in her hero. The candidate is forced to take stock of what she's given up for her career, while the younger woman wants her to focus on what's next, and the resulting confrontation reveals some very deep secrets.Yet when the Seattle-based playwright originally began writing The War Party four years ago, his inspiration was neither Clinton or Palin but Washington Republican Linda Smith, a Congressional representative who challenged Patty Murray in 1998. "Here was this contradictory, intensely rabid Republican woman who was clearly deeply wounded, someone who seemed so nakedly human, yet who was saying all of these things that I find appalling." Delaney found himself thinking about who such a person might be in private. "I have a really profound interest in the weird complexity of the political person, someone who has such a driving need to be out in the public world. The loneliness of that, and how messed up to be that public all the time."Delaney's attempt to humanize someone many of us would demonize is why the play's director, Rita Giomi, thinks that the show is less about politics than fundamental human relationships. "Politics is just the arena in which the play functions," says Giomi. "And it is an arena. There's a great deal of emotional and verbal violence in this play, which is really fun to direct, but it's really about service, and gender, and what we ask for women who choose this world to sacrifice. The big question of the play is what do you do when you've had all that power and it's suddenly gone?"Delaney, a Seattle native and Cornish grad, was an active playwright on the fringe scene throughout the '90s. He wrote a series of black comedies about anything from a couple who kidnap an elderly woman to keep their love alive (Herbert Loves Georgie) to a hilarious sendup of regional theater (A New Season at the Rep), informed by his time as a literary intern at Seattle Repertory Theatre. Yet it wasn't until he and his wife moved to Minneapolis in 2001 that playwriting became his profession, not just his passion. "Not to take away from Seattle, but I really found a home at the Playwrights' Center. I met so many great playwrights who take the craft so seriously. As a result of their work and the Center, every regional theater in the Twin Cities wants to work with playwrights on new plays."Along with an increase in his national profile, Delaney also has experienced the "development hell" that often accompanies new works these days. The War Party has had no less than eight workshops and readings since its first draft. But in this case, Delaney's actually grateful for the process. "I thought my first draft was great, and in retrospect it was awful. It's been a revelation that if you can use those workshops well, a play actually gets better. And now there's no question that it's time for it to get done."Delaney's reluctant to make any comments on real-world politics: "Please don't make me a political commentator!" he wails. But he does admit that he finds Clinton fascinating, particularly in defeat. "Politicians are always wearing this mask, and I don't think that it fit very well on her. She probably didn't enjoy wearing it, particularly when you think of all of the shit she had to shovel when talking in public."Both playwright and director say that while the play can be a bit grim at times (though leavened by Delaney's dark humor), it's got a surprisingly hopeful ending. A conservative Republican losing an election? Sounds hopeful enough for me.
The War Party Seattle Public Theater, Green Lake Bathhouse, 7312 W. Green Lake Ave. N., 524-1300, www.seattlepublictheater.org. $15–$25. Preview Sept. 25, opens Sept. 26. 7:30 p.m. Thurs.–Sat., 2 p.m. Sun. Ends Oct. 19.