In the Neo-Futurists’ remount of their sensational “44 Plays for 44 Presidents”, six actors dress in red, white, and blue prep-school uniforms to perform two to three-minute biographical skits about the successes, failures, or well-intentioned attempts of America’s past and present commander-in-chiefs. The writers (Andy Bayiates, Sean Benjamin, Genevra Gallo-Bayiates, Chloe Johnston, Karen Weinberg) chose particular presidential tones, events or character quirks and turned them up a notch to create slightly unbalanced, but incredibly entertaining portraits of the men that have shaped America.
The play requires not just talented actors but actors with talents; it employs ballet, tap-dancing, puppetry, a capella, musicianship, gymnastics, even the skill of speaking with a mouth stuffed with bread. Joe Dempsey captivates with his large stature and entrancing energy as he spans the emotional spectrum from a quipping Benjamin Franklin to a solemn Lynden Johnson. Dina Marie Walters’ face is like that of a rottweiler’s, totally adorable as long as she’s not being crossed. Bilal Dardai, Rawson Vint, Ryan Walters and Rani Waterman round out the rest of this laudable cast.
Director Helena Kays has fulfilled the ambitions of this show. Each scene sizzles as much as the last. The ever-changing narrative style ensures that you’ll never expect what’s coming next, no matter how much history you know. The audience interaction and casual tone give the sense that “we’re all in it together”, and that the audience could be playing an even more important role than the players.
Despite suffering an obvious liberal bias, the show does not preach as much as it teaches. It wants only to promote the importance of educated citizens and voters. The massive feat succeeds with mass appeal, accompanied by music from a charming two-piece band that gets the job done. Now how many presidents can we say did that?