BWW Reviews: 44 PLAYS FOR 44 PRESIDENTS, A Presidential Song & Dance
With the 2012 Presidential Election less than two weeks away, it’s hard not to tire of the onslaught of political ads, social media overwhelm, and numerous other efforts determined to sway public opinion. On TV, radio, billboards, and coming to you in the mail…their messages are everywhere. But regardless of which party you are affiliated with, or which of the candidates you choose to endorse, the most important message is that you get out and exercise your constitutional right to vote.
Drive Theatre Company is doing its best to ensure that people are prepared to vote by presenting 44 PLAYS FOR 44 PRESIDENTS as part of the Plays for Presidents Festival 2012. The festival is a national collaboration of theatre and educational artists designed to help audiences appreciate the power of democracy and the responsibility of the electorate. The Electoral College may have chosen the first President of the United States but ever since, We the People gather every four years to have our say.
In 44 PLAYS, each President is featured in a 2-minute or less mini-play based on something memorable from his Presidency or the time leading up to it. The chronology begins with George Washington and ends with the opportunity to vote for the candidate the audience thinks will win the upcoming election. The plays range from the humorous to the dramatic, and incorporate music, dance, famous quotes, historical data, and even audience participation. Some of the information presented is expected, such as John Adams’ tendency to talk endlessly or FDR’s pledge to help the American people with his New Deal.
Others are less well known, like John Tyler’s elevation from Vice President to President due to the death of William Henry Harrison only 32 days after he took office or that Ulysses Grant, known as "the butcher," died penniless after investing in a business overseen by his corrupt friends that went bankrupt.
To help the audience follow the brisk changes from one scene to the next, a photo of the featured president and his dates in office is shown in the background. A quote sign flashes when famous statements made by the presidents are proffered and a cast of five (Mark Jacobson, Steve Madar, Tory Smith, Allison Volk, and Karina Wolfe) takes on all the roles to mixed results.
Line fumbles and props that didn’t stay put interfered with timing on the night I attended the show and as the stage floor became increasingly littered with money, popped balloons, and other props I found myself more concerned with the actors’ safety than anything else. The show’s pace is a veritable speed-thru and more than once an actor slipped, tripped, or seemed not quite in control of the surroundings. What should have looked effortless instead felt haphazard, especially undermining the comedy.
More effective were some of the serious vignettes like Madison’s, narrated solemnly but presented in silence with large cards doubling the narration for emphasis, and the scene that asked where we were when the news of JFK’s assassination was reported. The actors grouped silently around the old television set with the glow from the black & white picture shining off their faces was eerily effective.
I commend Drive Theatre Company for its partnership with Rock the Vote to provide live voter registration and to create a dialogue that helps people make an informed choice for the upcoming election. Their presentation of 44 PLAYS is one of over 44 Productions of the piece taking place across the country as part of the Plays for Presidents Festival.
Directed by Doug Oliphant with music direction by Aaron Beaumont. Musical compositions and arrangements by Steve Goers, Laura McKenzie, Andre Pleuss & Allison Volk. Originally produced by The Neo-Futurists of Chicago.
Pictured above: Allison Volk and Steve Madar
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