What to do tonight: Brush up on your history of U.S. presidents at Bricolage
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Here's something for the person who just can't get enough presidential politics.
It's "44 Plays for 44 Presidents," a two-hour collection of short biographical scenes depicting each of our nation's leaders.
And -- just like real life -- it's a little bit funny, a little bit sad, a little bit absurd.
"The '44 Plays for 44 Presidents' is part of what we call 'The Fifth Wall Series,' which seeks to connect world events with scripted material," said Jeffrey Carpenter, artistic director for Bricolage, the local production company he founded 10 years ago.
"'Bricolage' means 'making artful use of what's at hand,'" he said. "Our mission is 'adventurous theater,' and we're trying -- pretty much with everything we do -- to break down the fourth wall and create a heightened sense of involvement for the audience. And that manifests itself in a variety of ways."
Tonight, those creative risks are made manifest through the presidency.
"44 Plays for 44 Presidents" was first produced by the Chicago-based Neo-Futurists in 2001. Well, that's not exactly right. Back then, it was "43 Plays for 43 Presidents."
The plays are kind of like fast-paced skits coming at you in chronological order, each depicting the lives and legacies of Washington, Adams, Jefferson ... right up to and including President Barack Obama. (It's possible that they might have to add Mitt Romney, but if they do, it won't be for another couple of months.)
Washington's time is presented in an Eden-like wonderment, while Jefferson's time comes across as Ben Franklin giving a Borscht Belt-style roast.
The creative people behind the Plays for Presidents Festival thought it would be interesting to have a bunch of presentations of their show across the country tonight -- the night before Election Day -- and the creative people at Bricolage were happy to join in. The show fits right into Bricolage's Fifth Wall Series.
"We're not interested in having an audience that just sits in the dark and claps when they're supposed to. We look for more of a connection," Mr. Carpenter said.
The local cast includes Karen Baum, Cassie Brehmer, Weston Blakesley, Maggie Ryan and Andrew Swackhamer under the direction of Mark Staley. I asked how a predominantly female cast could portray a series that is exclusively made up of men, but Mr. Carpenter gave me one of those "You'll have to come and see it" answers that means I'll probably have to go and see it.
One thing I do know: The two-hour show features a star-spangley jacket that each president wears so the audience has an idea of who is president. Other than that, it isn't very prop-heavy.
"I think there's a lot of laughter involved, but it shifts between comedy and tragedy," Mr. Carpenter said. "And it's pretty quick-moving. It has to be, in order to do 44 presidents in 120 minutes."
That amounts to less than three minutes a president. (And twice as much for Grover Cleveland.) But let's be serious. It's hard to imagine William Henry Harrison (31 days in office) and Franklin Delano Roosevelt (4,422 days) getting the same amount of stage time.
And I know what you're thinking. "What if I have to go to the rest room? I might miss James Buchanan!"
Don't worry. There's an intermission.
The best part of it is that -- like presidential elections -- the show is free! It starts at 7 p.m. at Bricolage, 937 Liberty Ave., Downtown.
First Published November 5, 2012 5:34 pm