44 Plays for 44 Presidents Review - More Fun Than The Clinton Presidency

With just one month to go before the next presidential election, 44 Plays for 44 Presidents returns to Chicago and its birthing center, The Neo-Futurarium.  Originally produced ten years ago as 43 Plays for 43 Presidents (and here’s hoping they do not have to change the name any time soon) this play has come a long way since first being performed above the Nelson Funeral Home in Andersonville.  For this year alone there are currently 49 planned productions and at least one former president (Jimmy Carter) sat through a performance.

Rawson Vint, Joe Dempsey, Dina Marie Walters, Ryan Walters, and Rani Waterman

For those expecting an over-the-top and brief exploration of our past presidents (maybe a more patriotic Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind) there might be some disappointment over the slow pacing and relative serious treatment given to our nation’s former CEOs.  Two presidents describe their terms in office as a nightmare one wakes from with the terror still present in the room.   Another presidential skit details the incredibly tragic and morbid story of President Pierce and is read aloud to the audience as a sort of gothic fairy tale by his suffering wife. 

Joe Dempsey and Ryan Walters

By no means though was the night a downer.  I especially enjoyed the roast of “Tommy Jeff” by an obnoxious Benjamin Franklin, a jump roping Barrack Obama, and a tap dancing Gerald Ford (who knew he survived two assassination attempts).  Although a few of the skits appeared to last longer than the administration they described, most of what was performed was creative and insightful enough to hold your attention.  Sometimes it was their own words (and you knew they were direct quotes because a sign saying “direct quote” lit up) that told their story; other times it was through an illuminating slice of life (like congressmen not opening a door for Jimmy Carter).  Often times what was omitted was more interesting than what was included.  For example, I was surprised that the words “Monica Lewinski” were not used once in the skit involving our 42nd president. 

Bilal Dardai

As the presidents moved forward chronologically, the images used to supplement the stories progressed from crude portraits to photos to radio excerpts.  Kennedy is the first president seen on television.  There also were plenty of other props to go along with the choreographed dances and original music such as One Nixon, Underdog.  Adding to the fun was that everything was accompanied by a fun and talented two person band.  And the cast here was quick-witted and energetic enough to make it all work.  All in all the evening was more entertaining than the Clinton presidency.

Dina Marie Walters

Bottom line:  44 Plays for 44 President is recommended for anyone with any interest in politics or American history.  This play is running every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday through November, 4th.  To purchase tickets, click here:  www.neofuturists.org.  For more information related to this and other plays click here:  theaterinchicago.com.

Photos by:  Maggie Fullilove-Nugent

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