Democracy is set in the West Germany of the late '60s and early '70s, after Willy Brandt ("Villy," as the Germans call him) has been elected chancellor, the first leader from the left to achieve that station in nearly 40 years. James Naughton plays Brandt, known for a charisma, political bravery and seeming ethical purity which created a sort of cult of personality around him. He was also known, however, for his philandering, heavy drinking, fits of depression and an inability to make decisions. Brandt was brought down by his seemingly trustworthy personal assistant, Günter Guillaume, who, though he came to admire and love his boss, was in secret an East German spy.
Richard Thomas plays Guillaume, in eye-shadowing eyeglasses. He also acts as narrator, telling the story of Brandt's rise and fall (apparently, from prison) to his East German contact in Bonn, played by Michael Cumpsty. The action begins with Brandt's election by a razor-thin margin and ends around the time the Berlin Wall fell.
The drama was a big critical hit in London. Though it again earned good reviews in New York, the dense work failed to catch on with audiences and did not enjoy the success of Frayn's previous Broadway play, Copenhagen.
Its early closing notwithstanding, Democracy is expected to be remembered by the Tonys when this season's nominations are announced.