Gail Fenumiai, now starring in "Write-In: The Count," which can be seen on statewide television, is no Sarah Palin. She has neither Ms. Palin's hunger for melodrama nor her thirst for controversy.
But cast by Craig Campbell as Alaska's Director of Elections, Ms. Fenumiai gives the performance of a lifetime as the tireless, disciplined, honorable bureaucrat who, besieged by campaign operatives representing Lisa Murkowski and Joe Miller, attempts to count votes -- more than 90,000 of them -- fairly and impartially.
Mr. Campbell's set can best be described as minimalist, evoking memories of Eugene Ionesco's "The Chairs." Certainly there are enough chairs -- and tables -- in the soulless long room where Ms. Fenumiai's employees spend their days pawing through stacks of write-in ballots to discover which votes were properly cast for Sen. Murkowski. One hoped for at least a cameo by Murkowski and her Republican opponent Joe Miller, but alas, neither appears on stage. We are left to infer their views from spokesmen John Tracy, the voice of macho certainty, and Randy DeSoto who, consistent with his earlier role in the campaign, seems sadly vexed but unclear about what to do next.
Sean Cockerham of the Anchorage Daily News and William Yardley of the New York Times lead a gaggle of reporters attempting to dope out where the count is headed. Cockerham and Yardley may not win roles in "The Front Page," but they are serviceable.
The tedium of the counting is at points so numbing one wonders if Mr. Campbell consulted the works of Samuel Beckett for guidance on how to make the meaningful look meaningless.
Much of the effective drama of "Write-In" revolves around the existential question -- perhaps a sly tip of the hat to the theater of the absurd -- how do you spell Murkowski?
Here's where Ms. Fenumiai shines brilliantly as the decider, appearing as if from nowhere to tell tables of tallying teams -- and campaign observers and journalists -- voter intent is paramount, and the will of the voter shall not be denied. Hence, various phonetic spellings of Murkowski are acceptable, a development that leaves Mr. DeSoto crestfallen.
One wonders how Oscar Wilde might have handled this scene, but let's face it, offering opinions on the legitimacy of ballots doesn't call for Lily Langtry twirling a parasol. Ms. Fenumiai, whose costumes seem right off the rack, is all business as she sternly but rapidly examines ballots and that's as it should be, given what's at stake.
The production suffers from the lack of a sound track. When "Write-In" opened, there was a sound track -- background music, symphonies, light jazz but nothing with lyrics as lyrics might be interpreted as opinions of the count. Suddenly, the sound track disappeared, and now all we hear is the hubbub of the crowd swirling around the set. Perhaps this is Mr. Campbell's reverential attempt to remind us the voice of democracy will be heard. Aaron Copland's "Fanfare For The Common Man" would have served better.
"Write-In: The Count" will close soon. Perhaps those who do not see Gail Fenumiai's tour de force will have the opportunity to watch a revival before the Supreme Court, although there are rumors that, in a revival, Ms. Fenumiai will be replaced by Vanessa Redgrave.
Michael Carey is a former editorial page editor of the Anchorage Daily News. E-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org.