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BWW Review: Syracuse Stage Presents Berkeley Rep's IT CAN'T HAPPEN HERE

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BWW Review: Syracuse Stage Presents Berkeley Rep's IT CAN'T HAPPEN HERE

This 2020/2021 season at Syracuse Stage is obviously starting out a little different than usual as theaters all over are adapting to how they present stories to their audiences. Syracuse Stage opens its season with two productions available online (both free of charge). Syracuse Stage has partnered with more than 75 theaters across the country to broadcast a radio adaptation, produced by Berkeley Repertory, of Sinclair Lewis' 1930s politically charged novel It Can't Happen Here.

The new stage adaptation by Tony Taccone and Bennett S. Cohen of Lewis' dark satirical novel, that was written during the rise of fascism in Europe, premiered at the Berkeley Repertory Theater in 2016 and closed one week before the last election. What better time to bring back the production now that it is once again an election year? The choice to present the play in radio form is fitting considering it takes place during the 1930s and at the moment theaters are finding unique ways to present virtual productions.

The chilling and captivating production under the superb direction of Lisa Peterson showcases a dynamic cast including Oscar nominated actor David Strathairn as the liberal protagonist Doremus Jessup. The production includes much of the original 2016 cast. The play is divided into four episodes that are about 30 minutes each. The audience/listener can access it anytime either listening to it all at once or spacing it out. The entire production is about 2 hours. At first, the thought of just listening to a play and not seeing any actors performing was disappointing. However, as soon as the radio play begins expect to be instantly hooked. The voices, the story, the intense pictures flashing in your mind of the characters and situations, along with many parallels drawn to politics today, makes this production a must listen.

The play follows a political demagogue who becomes president of the United States by promising to return the country to greatness (sound familiar?). That is just one of the many scary similarities to politics today in this radio production.

Oscar nominated actor David Strathairn portrays the liberal newspaper editor from Vermont, Doremus Jessup. Jessup is the voice of reason and his heart and passion for democracy and his country is evident in Strathairn's portrayal. His passionate, confident, and clear line delivery is truly captivating as his character speaks out against Presidential candidate Buzz Windrip (David Kelly). Windrip promises to return the country to greatness if elected. This includes throwing out immigrants (again familiar). Jessup constantly warns people of the dangers of Buzz Windrip getting elected. However, Windrop does in fact win the election. He offers a substantial amount of money to vote for him and tells the people what they want to hear. This is when a dark cloud falls over the United States.

The dark satire serves as a cautionary tale about the fragility of democracy in the land of liberty. With Windrip in the oval office a totalitarian state becomes a reality. To keep order in the country, violence is the main approach and silencing the intellectuals and journalists is a top priority. A group called, The Minutemen, are the brutal force used to rid the country of these dangerous outspoken intellectuals. Jessup has no respect for this brutal group and publishes an editorial criticizing the new regime. Jessup is then tried and sentenced to 25 years in jail.

As stated earlier, this radio play in four episodes is a must listen. Paul James Prendergast's sound design and music throughout the play is spot on perfection as this chilling and thought-provoking script takes center stage. The broadcast of this timely play is intended to encourage everyone to vote in the upcoming election. So, listen and think about the play, appreciate the brilliant characters and actors, and go vote.

Running time: 4 episodes approximately 25 to 30 minutes each. Approximately 2 hours total.

The radio style production of It Can't Happen Here produced by Berkeley Repertory Theatre through local partnership with Syracuse Stage and many other theaters is available for free online anytime through November 8, 2020 by clicking here.


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From This Author Natasha Ashley