Every few days, it seems, some “family values” politician is caught sleeping with an intern, soliciting sex in a restroom or asking his second wife for an open marriage. What boggles the mind, besides the hypocrisy involved, is how these men can engage in behavior that they know could destroy their careers.

Rob Handel’s Aphrodisiac, now at City Lights theater, is a political thriller—with a twist, which I’ll get to in a moment—that speculates about the mystery of the political beast. Based loosely on the Gary Condit–Chandra Levy affair of 2001, Aphrodisiac follows the case of Congressman Dan Ferris, who becomes embroiled in scandal after the disappearance of his mistress, Ilona Waxman.

In the opening scene, the married congressman (who, like Condit, had chastised Bill Clinton for his extramarital affair) is dining with Ilona. They quarrel and leave the restaurant, and after the scene ends, we learn that the poor girl has vanished. The play then throws us for a loop: The characters we saw were actually Ferris’ children, Alma and Avery, acting out the parts. The siblings, played by Kate McGrath and George Psarras, rarely see their father and have taken to role-playing as a way of demystifying him. The actual Dan Ferris never appears, except in offstage voiceovers.

Alma and Avery toss around a number of chilling scenarios involving their dad—maybe he killed Ilona or hired someone else to do it—but also some very funny insights into Washington, including an anecdote about Bill Clinton, Willie Nelson and Keith Richards hanging out and talking about girls.
The two eventually meet Monica Lewinsky (yes, Monica Lewinsky), played astutely and with a surprising amount of dignity by Amanda Folena. This character sheds light not only on the behavior of men in power, but gives the perspective of the women who become involved with them. In the end, Alma and Avery come up with their own conclusions, though the truth is still open to interpretation.

Running at about 80 minutes, this is a compact little play, smartly directed by Lisa Mallette, that will, perhaps, give audiences a fresh perspective on the next political sex scandal. However, the multiple layers of impersonation by the actors—McGrath playing Alma playing Alma’s mother, or Psarras playing Avery playing Ferris playing Clinton—are what really make the production interesting.

Aphrodisiac runs through February 19 at City Lights Theater Company, 529 S. 2nd St., San Jose. Tickets $15-$30. Info at 408.295.4200 and www.cltc.org.