Full-length play. 2 women, 3 men. Simple set.
The holding room: a political necessity, this is the nondescript room in every hotel or convention center where candidates wait to make speeches, give interviews or be driven to the next function. Helen and Paul Standish have seen dozens of holding rooms, and their exuberant lives as a politician and his wife have been played out against these dull backdrops.
At the beginning of this full-length play, Paul, in his early 40's, is running for his state Senate, the first step on what he believes will be an unstoppable race to the Presidency. Helen is his most vigorous campaigner and supporter. A mistake that she makes at a function - her miniskirted suit climbs so high that she flashes an AARP audience - quickly spirals into major political dynamite when a local news anchor, Susan Garcia, makes a less-than-kind observation about Helen on the air. The stakes for Helen, Paul, Susan, and even the Standishes’ political aide, Sam, are high, and efforts to control Helen’s fiery response only makes things worse. Eventually, a meeting between Susan and Helen allows them to commiserate over the difficulties of their work and draw the episode to a close.
Although the matter seems to be settled, it continues to pop up in every subsequent race the Standishes run, from the national Senate to the Presidency. Susan Garcia, also a rising star, keeps popping up too. No matter what Helen does, she seems to be unable to turn the conversation away from her panties and towards actual issues, nor does she feel Paul and Sam have truly forgiven her. In the face of enormous stresses, political (Paul’s frustration with balancing his government work with the continual campaigning; How often one can mention Bono in a speech) and personal (Sam’s infatuation with Helen; Her battle with cancer), the Standishes’ marriage disintegrates, until finally Helen leaves Paul.
Several years later, a very ill Helen visits her ex-husband on his last campaign. There, she is able to sadly square the dream of what they wanted to achieve - political equity for the poor and needy - with what they actually achieved - a twenty-year-long attempt to explain away a foolish error. Helen leaves Paul one last gift that combines the personal and political. Susan, now a major news anchor, brings the play to a close with bittersweet comments from Paul and Sam, before saluting Helen on the day of her death.
This play is full of trenchant political humor, while also serving as a lamentation for our culture’s obsession with anything tawdry despite the best efforts of people who care about serving their fellow citizens to turn the national conversation to something more worthwhile. The vacuousness of the holding room is a metaphor for the American culture’s inability to practice citizenship, as well as Helen and Paul’s inability to apply themselves to the higher obligations, interests and calling of those who would serve the citizenry of the United States.