Red Pepper is the story of the 1950 US Senate race in Florida. It centers around the relationships between the incumbent, Claude Pepper, his wife, Mildred, and George Smathers. Smathers was a young protégé of Pepper’s who wound up launching a “red smear” campaign against him in the 1950 race.
SP Times Review:
Political playwright: Suzanne Willett deserves a lot of credit for Red Pepper, her play about the 1950 Democratic primary for a U.S. Senate seat from Florida, between incumbent Claude Pepper and his conqueror, George Smathers. This epic encounter foreshadowed the polarizing politics of today — Pepper was an ardent New Dealer; Smathers espoused limited government, along with McCarthy-style red-baiting — and Willett is smart to recognize its relevance and theatrical potential.
The debut production of Red Pepper, now at Venue Theatre, features some excellent actors, especially Dana Kovar as Mildred Pepper, a sharp-witted counsel to her folksy, populist husband (Jared O'Roark), and Michael McGreevy, who gives a deliciously malevolent performance as Ed Ball, the St. Joe Paper Company power broker who ruled Florida from a Jacksonville hotel room.
Willett shrewdly delves into the personal relationships among the Peppers, the opportunistic Smathers (Tom Bronson), Ball and their operatives.