A Once In a Lifetime Conversation: Even If It's Only In Your Mind!
There was a time that no one would think of politics as being entertaining. Carter dealt with the Iran hostage crisis. Bush with the terrorism of 911, and Obama with the breakdown of the American economy. However, under the current revolving door administration, comical entertainment is one of the words, journalist, and politicians around the world are calling U.S. politics.
Fortuitously, for the theatre world, Rick Cleveland, writer of "The West Wing" and "House of Cards" has a knack for the dramatization of political affairs by stretching your imagination of fantasy and dark paranoia on television while making government leaders engaging on stage.
Cleveland, the brilliant playwright, who is also an Ensemble-member, drops you right into the action of these five Presidents possible conversation during Richard Milhous Nixon funeral. These distinguished gentlemen, who were part of a selective group of men, still alive as leader of our nation elaborated, joked and engaged in some petty macho bickering during this rare gathering.
This historical fictional encounter, begins on April 27, 1994, in the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, California. "Tricky Dick" five successors (four former and one current President) Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, and Clinton, talk about their policies, agendas, and sip on their favorite cocktails as they pay their last respects at his funeral.
The 90-minute dramedy fantasy is where we get to witness a conversation that never took place in the holding room before entering the memorial service for President Richard Nixon.
First to arrive in the holding room was the 38th President Gerald R. Ford (Tom McElroy), considered to some the smartest and wittiest in the bunch. Uncomfortable while in the room alone, he appeals to Secret Service Agent Kirby (Denzel Tsopnang) to hang around as he looks on at the portrait of President Nixon, stating "I'm not sure I want to be left alone with him." When the agent tells him that residents "remember him fondly," Ford mutters, "no small feat."
Ford is dead set against giving the eulogy as he tells Jimmy Carter (Martin L'Herault), "I already absolved him once, and I've paid the price for it ever since." As the other three commanders-in-chief join the men, friendly pleasantries turn quickly, when a fiery exchange between President John H.W. Bush (John Carter Brown) and President Bill Clinton Bush, who get into a heated exchange over the blood price paid over foreign policy (Iraq, Operation Desert Storm) and body counts. Reagan's (James Leaming) lurking dementia from Alzheimer's disease is skillfully inserted for both laughs and sorrow.
Cleveland's cleverness is ingenious as each President takes a dig at President Nixon's portrait and his soiling of the presidency. He also shows them harboring resentment towards one another throughout the play, which was masterfully done with snide remarks and presidential one-upmanship.
The seclusive scenic design makes for an in-depth space where you feel like you're in the holding room with the five Presidents as they continue to discuss sleepless nights, hard decisions, traditional or non-traditional notes given by their predecessors and the President's secret handshake to their "exclusive club" overseen by the portrait of Nixon.
The entire cast did an excellent job of creating the characteristics of the five presidents, and not just veering into a caricature of the men. President Ford, McElroy was entirely intentional in his poignant role as the angry President, forever to have his legacy attached to the pardon of Nixon. John Carter Brown as George H.W. Bush had a no none sense demeanor. He brought a lot of laughs with his comment, "Junior," his oldest son, hasn't demonstrated "much Aptitude."
Stephen Spencer as the subdued Bill Clinton to Reagan's cartoonish charm to the believable secret service agent played by Denzel Tsopnang made the play seem plausible that this was indeed not a fantasy but what happened that one day in the holding room.
Two of the most convincing impersonation was Martin L. Herault as Jimmy Carter and James Leaming as Reagan. Herault, who also played Carter in the Old Log Theatre's presentation of "Five Presidents, smile and demeanor indeed resembled the former President, and he brought a voice of calm to the disgruntled men whereas Leaming totally captured the aging Reagan battling with memory lapses and bouts of confusion.
The Five Presidents also dealt with questions regarding, if an African-American or woman would ever become President and Cleveland's brilliance is seen when they slightly open the door on the subject of racism and racial bias when Agent Kirby, who is African-American asks the question about his thoughts about ever seeing a president with his hue in the White House.
American Blues Theater Artistic Director Gwendolyn Whiteside, shares that Five President was Written during President Barack Obama's tenure and that Cleveland also joined the cast during rehearsals to help make this adaptation at ABT a success; and it was.
Let's play 'RECOMMEND' that you check out 'FIVE PRESIDENTS' at American Blues Theatre where President Nixon can keep an eye on you if only for 90 minutes.
American Blues Theater
Written By Rick Cleveland
Directed by Ensemble member Marty Higginbotham
September 6 – October 19, 2019
Filed under: ChicagoNow