Review by Terry Gaisin
Disclaimer: there IS bias here because playwright Judith Robinson is also a respected contributor to our ARTS REVIEW. So; as objectively as I can be – a critique of her political comedy in which a deceased Harry Truman (the haberdasher) advises President Jimmy Carter (the peanut farmer) on how to get reelected in the 1980 presidential campaign.
The format is concert-style with the characters seated while reading their dialogue from scripts. Incidental giggle; #39 is missing some pages until a ‘lines request’ is countered by an audience member running up with her version! The incumbent is recited by John Hewson while Walter Young is his ethereal campaign manager.
A foil for both is a delicious Kathleen Sheehy as Lillian Carter (Jimmy’s acerbic mother) and she more than adroitly hides her Southern culture behind a hilarious down-to-earth practicality.
Young’s Harry S* has the best lines and some amazing and ironical zingers. Naturally, a recollection of the contest as well as world history circa 1975-’80. Us O.F.’s may recall the Iran crisis over the Shah’s coming to the U.S. for medical attention; the Panama Canal turnover; Iaccoca getting a blank cheque from Congess to save Chysler; the 3-Mile Island catastrophe; the Camp David Accord between Begin & Sadat; and the Eastern Seaboard blackout These were small glitches compared with Elvis dying; the release of the Commodore 64 home computer; and Atari. To help bring back the era – our radios blared out stuff by the Bee Gees (Satuday Night Fever; “Staying Alive”); ABBA’s ‘Take a Chance on Me’; Manilow’s “Copacabana”’ Y-M-C-A and everything from The Beach Boys. Hard to believe that forty years have passed … an actual lifetime.
Robinson has her protagonists argue merits; philosophies and especially ‘real politik’, the practical side of non-diplomatic diplomacy and manipulation. Obviously she knows her history because the opinions psychologically portray the individuals even if there are no Nixonian tapes to verify formulations, and are ghosts’ speeches’ recordable anyway? Truman was a pragmatist; Carter meant well but his Born Again religion made everything he did seem like a reflection of “WWJD?) There is one quotable line that helps explain why the U.S. is in such a turmoil today – “Americans LIKE being ignorant”. No wonder Trump got elected. Unless of course, it was to NOT elect ‘Crooked Hillary’.
It was a blustery Sunday at the Quaker Meeting House, so attendance was not exactly SRO; but the concept and execution was more than worthwhile and certainly made the audience think back. The small support efforts especially those from Don Woodside as a narrator, helped round out the imagery. Given the premise that ‘those who forget history are bound to repeat it!’; facing an election on this side of the boarder within eight months; a reminder is surely a good thing.
* There is NO dot after the “S” as Harry had no middle name – only the initial!