‘44 Plays’ a Humorous History Lesson Through Theatre
Published: Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 10, 2012 15:10
Slug: Theatre Review
HED: “44 Plays” a Humorous History Lesson Through Theatre
Byline: Jack Dura
Bytitle: Contributing Writer
Anyone who needed a little brushing up on their knowledge of U.S. presidents would have had no shortage of the stuff at Concordia College Theatre’s recent production of “44 Plays for 44 Presidents.” A veritable history lesson utilizing nearly every aspect of theater, this presidential production was not lacking in entertainment or education.
Comprised of five men and five women, the cast gave collective glimpses into each presidency of the United States, and in a different style every time. Whether it was humorous, sad or odd, with speech or silence, lit up with light or drenched in darkness, every president’s story was told in a unique way.
Each actor took turns portraying a president, from Washington to Obama, which made for an interesting theatrical experience but proved distracting at times. As we all know, every president has been a man, but that did not mean that they could not be portrayed by the women in this play. It just did not look right for John Adams to be wearing a polka-dot dress or for Jimmy Carter to be walking around in high heels.
Another slight distraction was the light that flashed on whenever a direct quote from a president or historical figure was stated by one of the cast members. At first it was somewhat enlightening (in more ways than one!) but then became annoying as the production progressed. After all, who in a dark theater wants a bright yellow light switched on and off at infrequent points during a play?
There were, however, several aspects of the production that made up for these minor negatives. During each short play, a screen to the left of the stage showed a picture of the president being portrayed as well as their years in office, which literally helped set the stage for the performance. Audience participation was encouraged at times, which was especially interesting when John F. Kennedy’s short play called for older audience members to share memories of his assassination.
Other memorable scenes included any of the ones about a president who died in office. How the cast told the stories of those presidents’ deaths was different each time, but the main themes seemed to be humor and sorrow. These two themes ran rampant throughout the performance. Although this aspect of the short plays was slightly limited, the ways the cast depicted the presidencies was very different indeed.
James Garfield’s presidency was presented through a dance, Richard Nixon’s was a musical, Chester Arthur’s a Q&A and Woodrow Wilson’s a college lecture. Herbert Hoover’s term in office was analogized through a bad Rube Goldberg experiment while John Tyler’s tenure was a series of mean jokes. Perhaps the funniest presidents portrayed were Ulysses S. Grant (a proverbial rockstar), William Howard Taft (“I don’t wanna be president! President’s a stinky job!”) and Warren G. Harding (“I don’t know anything about this European stuff.”). Other scenes were somewhat sad (Franklin Pierce and Harry S. Truman), and a few were just downright strange (Millard Fillmore and Gerald Ford). The whole production came to an austere end with Barack Obama trying to avoid tripping up while playing Double Dutch jump rope.
Concordia’s rendition of “44 Plays for 44 Presidents” was an enjoyable and educational experience, and seemed an appropriate play for the time, right in the heat of the presidential election. The cast included Ali Abdullah, Hannah Amundson, Jacqui Backer, Britainy Bruce, Theodore Coonradt, Dominic Hillberg, Rachel Honz, Ryan Modahl, Meghan Olson and Martin Pederson. The show ran at Concordia College Theatre from Oct. 4 to 7.