Quick, name all 44 presidents, then do a skit about each one. Better yet, let Theatre Pro Rata do it. To celebrate the upcoming presidential election, TPR is participating in a national festival of productions of 44 Plays for 44 Presidents, a chronological overview of all of our chief executives presented in 44 short, historical plays, all performed in less than two hours.
“It’s a fun, thoughtful trot through the presidency,” says Pro Rata artistic director Carin Bratlie. “I love that it’s non-partisan, that it doesn’t skew in any political direction.”
Begun almost a decade ago by the Neo-Futurists, a theater ensemble in Chicago, the project first came to Bratlie’s attention when it was still 43 Plays for 43 Presidents. It’s a work for five actors who go through a wild ride that’s largely comical and irreverent, but at times quite serious. There are brief comedies, such as Benjamin Franklin conducting a Borscht Belt–style roast of Thomas Jefferson, and tragedies, such as the frank portrayal of William Henry Harrison’s life as an “Indian slayer.” Nixon gets a dance number and Gerald Ford gets lampooned for being clumsy, but the average bit is only three minutes long, and there are wars, assassinations, and scandals to cover, so the pace is brisk.
“It gets at the meaty underbelly of who we are as a nation, things to be proud of, things to be ashamed of,” Bratlie says. “Then it asks, ‘What are you going to do as we move forward, to be involved in civic life?’”
On Election Day in November, Theatre Pro Rata plans a one-night revival, along with more than 40 other theaters around the country, in an effort to get into the Guinness Book of World Records for the most simultaneous performances of a play ever.
June 29–July 14
Calvary Lutheran Church Fellowship Hall
3901 Chicago Ave. S., Mpls.