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'City of Conversation' Illuminates Political Stage

Colin, left, and Hewitt, right. (C. Stanley Photography/ Arena Stage)

Arena Stage's production of "The City of Conversation" tells the story of national politics through the confines of Georgetown's elite salon culture, traversing three distinct recent eras.  

“I’m interested in D.C. politics in that this is where the rules are made that shape our lives,” Margaret Colin, who plays the main character, Hester Ferris, told HOH. “So I’ve been down here for protest marches since Roe v. Wade, I’ve been down here for my son, who went to Catholic University, so I’m familiar with D.C. But I’m here because it’s a really great part and I was invited to do it by a really great director.” The play opens in 1979 with Ferris working to procure the Democratic nomination for president for Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. Hester prefers Kennedy over the incumbent, President Jimmy Carter whom she describes as nothing more than a "seat warmer President."  

A Georgetown socialite who lives with a married senator and hosts dinner parties to further the Democratic agenda, Hester is old D.C. incarnate. Her son Colin Ferris (Michael Simpson) enters the fold upon returning from the London School of Economics with his new fiancée, Anna Fitzgerald, played by Caroline Hewitt. Anna is a Midwestern conservative who lectures Democratic senators over for dinner about the upsides of electing Ronald Reagan.  

Director Anthony Giardina gained inspiration for writing this play from a Sidney Blumenthal 1997 New Yorker essay, “The Ruins of Georgetown.”  

Fast forwarding to the late-1980s, Hester works to block a Reagan nominee for the Supreme Court.  On the other side of the nomination battle, Anna works at the Department of Justice and Colin, turned conservative, works for a fictional senator from New Hampshire.  

In preparing for this role, Colin walked from the Arena Stage, located at the Southwest waterfront, to Georgetown to explore the city. “I don’t understand the layout, so walking from here to Georgetown really gave me some perspective,” she said.  

She said she absorbed a lot about D.C. culture from previous roles of playing Jackie Kennedy and Katherine Graham, but added, “I have not met any Georgetown hostesses.”  

The third and final act is set on election night in 2008, when Colin and Anna’s son Ethan returns to his grandmother’s house with his partner, Donald Logan, played by Freddie Bennett. They are attending a party for the newly elected President Barack Obama, which spurs the two generations of characters to debate the supposed whether liberalism indeed declined in the 1980s and the similarities between two eras of progressive thought.  

The City of Conversation runs until March 6. Contact Gangitano at AlexGangitano@cqrollcall.com and follow her on Twitter @AlexGangitano.

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