BWW Review: 45 PLAYS teaches us about 45 PRESIDENTS
In the course of American history there have been 44 men to become President of the United States. In the course of just under two hours, 5 very capable women embody those 44 men, plus their wives, mistresses, political opponents, and everyone's favorite non-POTUS, Benjamin Franklin.
NextStop Theatre Company presents 45 Plays For 45 Presidents written by Andy Bayiates, Sean Benjamin, Genevra Gallo-Bayiates, Chloe Johnston and Karen Weinberg. This quintet of writers set out to write this play in the early 2000's when it was titled 43 Plays.... Over the course of the last decade, the show has undergone various iterations. Prior to the 2008 election, the show featured an election during the finale, making it a Drood type ending, with the audience deciding who wins. Subsequently, the show did the same last fall and now that we are in the midst of an administration the play is back to the static ending.
The writing is remarkable, with each vignette being depicted in a variety of styles (One of my personal favorites was the Wikipedia-inspired Millard Fillmore sketch). The authors went to great lengths to find absurdly true facts and quotes by each POTUS and weaved a great tapestry together to present an entertaining and comical look at the 45 administrations of these 44 men. (Can you name which POTUS has non-consecutive terms?) While the play is structured as a comical insight into these lives, there are some very poignant moments, specifically regarding those who been assassinated, which serves as a nice companion piece to NextStop's previous production of Assassins.
Had history been different last fall, we could have said 43 men and 1 woman, but in this reality, NextStop has given us a treat by casting 5 extraordinarily talented actors. The powerhouse women who embody these men are the perfect choice for not only their strengths on stage, but for the audience to remember that while no woman has been POTUS, there certainly is no reason why that won't be the case in the future. Sarah Anne Sillers commands the stage as POTUS #1, the reluctant George Washington. Mary Myers is brilliant as our current POTUS and plays him with great gusto. Ms. Myers also "embodies" Supreme Court Justice William Howard Taft, who never really wanted to be president. Carolyn Kashner, as Teddy Roosevelt, plays the statesman with great fervor. Chloe Mikala, as Thomas Jefferson, is forlorn in never truly living up to Benjamin Franklin. And as Warren G. Harding, Brittany Martz exemplifies the universally disliked president.
Director Megan Behm should be commended, not just for assembling these 5 female superheroes, but also for making the evening flow seamlessly between POTUSes. Using Sean Cox' brilliant projections and lighting design, Ms. Behm enhances the script by effectively drawing our attention to important facts and ensures that even the most well-read history buff will come out of the show learning something new. Daniel Hobbs' Capital inspired set is perfect for the initimate space and Alison Samantha Johnson's costumes work amazingly well given the vast timeline of our country's history.
NextStop is constantly doing great work, not just with known commodities like last fall's brilliant Assassins, but also in taking risks to present something out of the ordinary. Every POTUS made their mark on the country, whether big, small, or negative, and reminding us of each man's contribution, we can be entertained and see how each administration left their mark.
Running Time: 1 hour and 45 minutes, with one intermission
Box Office: (866) 811-4111 or online.
Photo Credits: Lock & Company