44 Plays for 44 Presidents
Written by Andy Bayiates, SEan Benjamin, Generva Gallo-Bayiates, Chloe Johnson, and Karen Weinberg; Produced by Daniel Morris and Meg O'Brien; Director, Jeffrey Mosser; Stage Manager, Cat Dunham Meilus; Choreographer, Alli Engelsma-Mosser; Sound Designer, Antanas Meilus; Props Designer, Julie Brown; Lighting Designer, PJ Strachman; Dramaturg, Max Mondi; Assistant Production Manager, James Bocock
CAST: Morgan Bernhard, Brenna FitzGerald, Britt Mitchell, Will Moore, Brooks Reeves
Performances through November 11 by Bad Habit Productions in Deane Rehearsal Hall at the Calderwood Pavilion, Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street, Boston, MA; Box Office 617-933-8600 or www.bostontheatrescene.com
As one of 44 theater groups participating in the 2012 National Plays for Presidents Festival, Bad Habit Productions presents 44 Plays for 44 Presidents at the Calderwood Pavilion through this weekend. If you are not totally comatose or beaten into submission by the thousands of political advertisements that have flooded the airwaves for the better part of a year, you might choose to celebrate the end of this election cycle by taking in this lighthearted two-hour tour of presidential history. Each of the 44 Commanders-in-Chief is featured in a short biographical scene that highlights a highlight or lowlight of their time in the Oval Office.
Director Jeffrey Mosser, who also wears the hat of Social Media and Community Outreach Director for the National Festival, guides an energetic and sincere, if not always polished, cast of five young men and women who take turns wearing the "special presidential coat" when they step into the spotlight. Despite the fact that all of our presidents have been male (so far), Mosser includes two women along with three men in the ensemble, and Brenna FitzGerald and Britt Mitchell prove to be as irreverent as Morgan Bernhard, Will Moore, and Brooks Reeves.
Performing in front of a tri-fold wall covered with artwork representing each of the "44" as imagined by individual artists, reminiscent of a history display in a classroom, the actors use a minimum of props (stashed away in a collection of cubes painted blue, emblazoned with gold stars) and a maximum of charm and shtick to convey some nugget of information about their characters in doses that average two minutes in length. Of course, some portrayals are more successful than others, but credit or blame goes to the writers from the Chicago Neo-Futurists, not to the Bad Habit troupe.
A few of my personal favorites are FitzGerald's jump-roping Obama, Teddy Roosevelt as played by four of the actors, the Nixon (Bernhard) mini-rock musical, and the campaign of Bush the first (Reeves). It is easier to connect to the more recent holders of the office, but they benefit from a recognition factor that the earlier guys just don't have for most of us. We learn that some of the 44 did bad things and some of them did nothing; some were in office very briefly and others rose to it by happenstance; some were remarkable and deserving of their place in history. Still, it is the continuity of the line and the magnitude of the job that gives the position of POTUS its gravitas and from which it derives the respect and interest of the people.
The sketches are heavily weighted toward the comedy genre, but there's a fair amount of drama and a smattering of singing and dancing. Learning about the presidents in a theatrical setting is more palatable than sitting in school and you don't have to worry about being quizzed, but I venture that you'll know more when you leave than when you arrive. For instance, it turns out that Bush v. Gore was not the first time that happened (maybe you already knew that), but at least we didn't have to deal with a protracted fight in this year's election. In the interest of fairness, Bad Habit lets the audience take a vote at the end of the show to decide which coda to perform – Romney or Obama as the prospective #45. Regardless of your party loyalty, do yourself a favor and vote to view the Romney bit. And keep your fingers crossed that we get a breather before anyone starts talking about 2016!