Saturday, March 28, 2015

Theatre: Bare - A Pop Opera

It is always exciting to watch an obscure musical for the first time, especially when it has beautiful music and a strong storyline that is advanced through song instead of speech.  The 2004 off-Broadway musical Bare: A Pop Opera fits all of these criteria, especially the last one, since a "pop opera" by definition has sing-through dialogue based on rock or pop melodies, in the vein of the musical Rent.  You can listen to the music here on YouTube.

Bare is about group of students in their last year at a Catholic boarding school, dealing with issues of identity and acceptance within the confines of their strict religious upbringing.  At the centre of the story is the tumultuous and forbidden love affair between Peter and Jason, two gay teenage roommates who struggle with the morality of their feelings in the eyes of the Church.  Peter is a sensitive, artsy student who wants the couple to come out of the closet, while top student and valedictorian Jason wants to stay behind the shield of his Letterman jacket and sports jock persona.  In order to maintain the fa├žade, Jason succumbs to the advances of Ivy, causing jealousy in Matt, who always plays second fiddle to Jason, both in school rankings and now in the quest for Ivy's affections.  Meanwhile, Jason's overweight sister Nadine hides her feelings of insecurity and rejection behind a tough, sarcastic demeanor, with most of her snide remarks directed at Ivy, who she perceives as the promiscuous beauty who has everything handed to her because of her looks.

It is heartbreaking to listen to some of the songs, as you can feel the angst and pain of the characters through both the melody and the lyrics.  Peter laments about how he feels when Jason wants to hide their feelings for each other–"The role of a lifetime, it’s living a fantasy...A war with such casualties, all played out behind a smiling face."¹ Nadia complains about the pretty girls getting everything while she is left behind, calling herself "Plain Jane fat ass; Hungry for love, she's a sensitive soul".¹  Ivy reveals her vulnerabilities in being judged just for her looks–"Portrait of a girl .. object of rumour .. sought after, trapped like a pearl". ¹ Hurt after being rejected by their respective objects of affection, Peter and Matt reach out to God, asking "Are you there? Do you watch me when I cry? And if it’s in your power, How can you sit idly by?"¹  And finally, tormented by guilt over his secret, Jason goes to Confession looking for absolution and is devastated by the Church's immoveable stance against homosexuality–"I've tried to be strong, I've tried to belong; But I don't, or I won't, I can't ... Am I Ok?

One of the most effective songs called "See Me" revolves around a phone call where Peter tries to tell his mother that he is gay, while she continually cuts him off with trivial chitchat so as not to hear the truth–"Don’t hang up; this took such courage; I’m dying here, I’m all alone; I know you know what I’m saying; Just let me tell you

Part of the plot involves the students auditioning and rehearsing for the school play, Romeo and Juliet.  In several songs, the lyrics are actually famous excerpts of that play, including the balcony scene, the pilgrims' hands speech when the lovers first meet, and the Queen Mab speech.  Setting Shakespeare's verses to music added an interesting dynamic to the musical and this play in particular highlighted the parallels between the doomed relationship of the two sets of star-crossed lovers.

One thought-provoking element of Bare was the contrast between the reactions of the students versus the Church (as personified by the confessional priest) after learning about Peter and Jason's relationship.  The students are surprisingly accepting and nonchalant about the revelation, while the Church is unyielding and unsympathetic, spouting doctrine about morality and sin.  In general, the kids in this school don't show much reverence towards the Church, as illustrated by the song Confession–"We're doing time in confession; It's a sacrament of oppression; We have no need for forgiveness; Because our shit's none of his business"¹  There might be some personal opinions of the composers being represented here.

Bare: A Pop Opera only ran for 6 weeks off-Broadway in 2004.  It has since been remounted multiple times across North America in both professional and semi-pro productions, including a recent version by University of Toronto theatre troop Woodsworth Performing Arts Collective (Wolfpac), which we had the pleasure of watching.

The group of talented young actors gave good singing and acting performances, but they were betrayed by substandard sound system and miking equipment.  The volume of their voices faded in and out and it was difficult to hear the ones with the weaker voices that could not project through the theatre.  On several occasions, the volume on the mikes was turned up too much, resulting in grating feedback noise.  The stand-outs in the cast were the actresses who played Ivy and Nadia. They were by far the best singers and actors, and we had no problems hearing them speak or sing.  Execution of the choreography needed a bit of work, as there were a few times when members of the chorus missed their marks and bumped into each other while moving around the stage.  Given that we watched the first show of the run, hopefully they were able to work out these issues.

All in all, I enjoyed watching this show since I loved the songs and story and appreciated the staging and choreography.  I would really like to watch a professional mounting of Bare: A Pop Opera some time, where the performers would have proper technical support.  In 2012, the show was revamped  as a book musical (with more speaking parts and less dialogue through song) and 
renamed Bare: The Musical.  The story was updated to reflect more current societal views towards the LGBT population and bullying.  I would love to have the chance to watch this version as well.

¹Lyrics from Bare: The Pop Opera by Jon Hartmere & Damon Intrabartolo

Monday, March 23, 2015

Theatre: Spoon River

It was a weird coincidence that our last two theatre excursions were each inspired by early 1900s poetry, using lines of verse verbatim from their source poems. The musical Wild Party was based on a 1924 book poem of the same name, while the music-infused play Spoon River was developed around the 1915 book of poetry called "Spoon River Anthology" by Edgar Lee Masters. 

Spoon River Anthology was written as a series of short, rhyme-less poems of approximately 10-20 lines, each one representing the epitaph of a past resident from the fictional town of Spoon River.  Masters based many of the characters on people that he either knew or had heard of, from his two home towns of Petersburg and Lewistown, Illinois.  Each poem was named after the deceased, and was written in the first person, as if spoken from the grave directly by that person.  Occasionally, several epitaphs may be linked by previous living relationships, such as husband and wife, mother and son, master and servant, so that you don't get the whole story until you hear them both.  The verses could describe how a person died (murder, suicide, war, illness, accident), or the circumstances of his life, or might just make some general observation about living in rural, small town America at the turn of the 20th Century.  Some anecdotes were humorous while others were heartbreaking .

"Judge Somers - How does it happen .. that I who was the most erudite of lawyers ... lie here unmarked, forgotten, while Chase Henry, the town drunkard has a marble block ..

"Amanda Barker - Henry got me with child, knowing that I could not bring forth life without losing my own ..."¹

The performance of this original Soulpepper production of Spoon River begins the minute you enter the darkened pathway of the Young Theatre.  First you walk by a wall lined with black and white period photos, presumably of the characters who will present their stories.  Next you come across a sign declaring that the "Funeral of Bertie Hume" is about to take place, and just before entering the seating area, you see a wood casket with the actress playing Bertie lying peacefully inside it.  Tombstones line the path, while pallbearers dressed in black topcoats guide your way.  Once seated, as you look upon the semi-transparent backdrop of the tree-lined stage with a brightly lit full moon, you see shadowy images of other audience members walking through the forest.  The illusion is amazing since they look like unearthly spirits floating by.

Spoon River selects a subset of the over 200 epitaphs from the anthology and delivers them through speech or song and dance, as a series of declarations from the ghostly occupants of a cemetery atop a hill, who rise to greet the newly deceased Bertie Hume after her outdoor funeral.  This is not a musical in the traditional sense, but rather a play with musical numbers interspersed.  The songs feature foot-stomping bluegrass and hillbilly music, with a wide range of instruments including the banjo, violin, ukelele, acoustic guitars, bass, piano, autoharp, trombone, trumpet and drums.

The first song corresponds to the first introductory poem in the anthology, setting to music the words of "The Hill": "We are Elmer, Herman, Bert, Tom and Charles; The weak of will, the strong of arm, the clown, the boozer, the fighter .. We are Ella, Kate, Mag, Lizzie and Edith; The tender heart, the simple soul, the loud, the proud, the happy one ... all, are asleep on the hill ..."¹

Some of the vignettes use innovative staging techniques that are so simple and yet so visually powerful.  One comic series of theme-linked poems feature spousal pairs standing in front of wooden planks that represent the backs of their coffins.  Spotlights focus on the husband and wife as they each tell their side of their joint story.  When they are done, there is a fade to black and when the lights go on again, a new pair is standing there.

You have Tom Merritt who was shot to death by his wife's 19-year-old lover who "aimed and fired at my heart"¹, while Mrs. Merritt (note that she doesn't even warrant a first name!) was sentenced to 30 years and died in prison–"And the iron gates of Joliet swing as the gray and silent trusties carried me out in a coffin.

Ollie McGee who moans that "my husband .. robbed my youth and my beauty ... in death .. I am avenged"¹, followed by Fletcher McGee lamenting "she died and haunted me and hunted me for life."¹  Throughout this counterpoint, Ollie wears a ghostly white sheet over her head, which she occasionally lifts to display a ghoulish grin.

And then there is the marital discord between Benjamin Pantier and Mrs. Benjamin Pantier (again no first name!).  She "drove him away from home to live with his dog in a dingy room back of his office"¹.  He stands there cradling his beloved dog Nig in a swaddling cloth like a baby, describing Nig as his "constant companion, solace and friend .. partner, bed-fellow; comrade in drink."¹

Another example of inspired staging involves the creative uses of a wooden ladder.  In a scene about arsonist Silas Dement, the ladder is propped up against another actor as Silas climbs upward to gain access to the place he wants to torch.  Next the ladder is placed on the ground and a group of firemen "climb" it to reach the fire.  In another scene, the ladder is placed in front of a convict and the rungs of the ladder become his prison bars.

The best use of the ladder occurs during the eerie and hauntingly beautiful song sung by Mrs. Sibbley, who commits suicide by stepping in front of a train.  As she stands on the "railway tracks", she sings of "My secret: under a mound that you shall never find".¹  The mood and tension is ratcheted by the lighting and sound effects of the oncoming locomotive.  At the point of impact, which corresponds to the crescendo of her aria, red rose petals fall from the ceiling, symbolizing the splatter of her blood.  The entire scene was breathtaking!

One of the funniest epitaphs is by A.D.Blood, strict and moralistic past mayor who complains "If you think my work is good, who closed saloons and stopped all playing at cards, why do you let the miller's daughter and worthless son of Benjamin Pantier nightly make my grave their unholy pillow?"¹  Edgar Masters had a great sense of humour!

Spoon River begins with Bertie Hume's covered coffin being carried in by the pallbearers and set onto the stage. At first you wonder if the body you saw while entering the theatre is actually in the coffin.  But as the show goes on without her appearance, while the various characters dance, stomp, kick and play drums on the coffin, you think she can't possibly be in there.  But then at the end of the show, the coffin finally opens and Bertie emerges (probably from a trap door leading under the stage) to sing her song about needing to live life to the fullest while you can.

This was a very unique but entertaining show, taken from a very unusual and interesting set of poems.  After watching so much theatre, it is wonderful to stumble on something truly different and innovative.

¹ Quotes from Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters

Friday, March 20, 2015

Theatre: Wild Party - Lachiusa vs Lippa

Wild Party is a book-length classic narrative poem written by Joseph Moncure March in 1928 that was meant to be a "dark Prohibition-era morality fable".  It tells the story of vaudevillian performers and lovers Queenie, the dancer and Burrs, the clown, who have a volatile and abusive relationship.  As a way to make up after a violent fight, they decide to throw a party for all of their friends, with Queenie harboring the additional secret agenda of trying to stick it to Burrs by finding someone to flirt with.  The party turns into an orgy filled with gin, cocaine and both gay and straight sex and even an incestuous brother pairing.  Trouble brews when Queenie meets and develops a deep connection with the mysterious Mr. Black, leading to an explosively climatic conclusion (pun intended).

Even for the roaring 20s, this poem was quite scandalous and the book was widely banned.  Interest in Wild Party was not revived until 1994, when graphic novelist and cartoonist Art Spiegelmen (who won the Pulitzer prize for Maus) created the illustrations for a new publishing with the subtitle "The Lost Classic".

Suddenly, Wild Party was popular again, and resulted in two musical adaptions being produced in the same 1999-2000 theatre season.  Wild Party by Michael Lachiusa had a brief 68 show run on Broadway and starred Mandy Patinkin (Saul on Homeland) and Toni Collette (the mother in Sixth Sense and About A Boy - who knew she could sing?!?) as Burrs and Queenie.  The second Wild Party by Andrew Lippa ran for 54 productions off-Broadway, featuring Idina Menzel (Wicked, Frozen) and Tayne Diggs (Rent, Private Practice) as party guests Kate and Mr. Black who form a tragic love quadrangle with Queenie and Burrs.  Had Lippa's version made it to Broadway as intended, there would have been a chance for two musicals with the same name, based on the same source, to be nominated for a Tony award in the same year.  Sadly, this did not come to pass.

Having bought the soundtrack for Andrew Lippa's version of Wild Party many years ago, I love those songs and know them by heart.  Learning that The Wild Party would be playing at the Canadian Stage Berkley Theatre, I immediately assumed it was the version I was familiar with, and I was excited that I could finally see the songs performed live. Instead, it turned out that this was the Lachiusa version of the musical–the one that I knew nothing about.  After watching this version, I am now able to compare and contrast the two Wild Party musicals.

Both productions start with the same-titled first song and the identical initial lines of lyrics, taken verbatim from the first lines of the poem–"Queenie was a blonde and her age stood still, and she danced twice a day in vaudeville...".  But that is where the similarities end.  Although based on the same source poem, these two musicals are very different both in plot emphasis and musical style.  The differences are easy to spot by examining the first song of each show.  Lippa's version of Queenie Was A Blonde has a smooth, sultry cool jazz feel, featuring muted trumpets, saxophones and piano as the primary instruments.  Lachiusa's version is highlighted by blaring horns and brass, giving it a swing jazz or big band feel that is more representative of the era in which the story takes place.

On the whole, I much prefer  Lippa's Wild Party, since the tunes are more hummable, memorable and accessible.  His storyline is more intimate, focusing mainly on the tensions of the four main characters of Queenie, Burrs, Kate and Black, with the rest of the party guests acting merely as peripheral fillers.  In this respect, the plot is probably a bit closer to the poem than in the Lachiusa version.  In general, the music in the Andrew Lippa version sounds more modern and typical of contemporary Broadway fare.  Ballads and torch songs such as Poor Child, Maybe I Like It This Way, and What Is It About Her flesh out the motivations and relationships of the foursome, allowing you to become more invested in their plight.

By contrast, many of the Lachiusa songs seem like they are disparate acts or sketches pulled right out of a 1920s vaudeville show, in the spirit of Al Jolson or Eddie Cantor.  Despite being less melodic for my tastes, this music is definitely more authentic to the times.  Expanding on the poem, the plot is also more substantial, exploring deeper, serious themes such as racism, antisemitism, and violence against women.  Each of the party guests has a distinct story arc and is given multiple songs to further explore or develop his or her character.

Eddie is a formerly successful black boxer known as "The Champ" who has a white wife named Mae.  In their first song Eddie and Mae, the couple seem like the picture of wedded bliss.  But as the party progresses and Eddie flirts with other women, the strains of the relationship emerge.  Eddie feels he gave up boxing for Mae, while Mae gave up dancing in vaudeville for Eddie.  Although he is called "The Champ", he still experiences racism as shown in the lyrics of the song When Golden Boy Goes Down–"You're the pride of your race; Hey wait, use the back door; remember your place.  You can look at the white girls, sure;  But Champ, don’t you touch."

Oscar and Phil are performing brothers who also seem to be incestuous lovers!  Their bond is tested by the lecherous Jackie, who has the hots for anyone and everyone at the party, and is termed "ambisextrous" both in the poem and in the lyrics of his introduction song Breezing Though Another Day.  Jackie seduces Oscar, then later, while high on cocaine, tries to rape Nadine, the young sister of Mae.  Nadine starts the party as a young innocent who dreams of being on Broadway, but is corrupted by Jackie and ends up snorting cocaine before he attacks her.

Lesbian Madeline has brought her new conquest, drugged-up morphine addicted Sally to the party and is desperate for Sally to love her.  Sally spends most of the party in a catatonic state, but eventually awakens and in the song After Midnight Dies, she clearly sees all the revelers as they really are–"Down goes the wall; Down goes the guard; After midnight dies, it ain’t so hard to see the truth.  No need for lies.  What we are is all we are"

Delores is a faded vaudeville star who longs to reclaim past her past glories.  In that pursuit, she seduces a pair of Jewish theatre producers, Gold and Goldberg, hoping they will include her in their plans to move "Uptown" to Broadway.  Last to arrive are Queenie's best friend Kate, and her escort/gigolo Mr. Black.  While Kate makes the moves on Burrs, Black is immediately drawn to and falls in love with Queenie, sparking the main conflict to come.

One prevalent theme, that is illustrated by the behaviours of multiple characters, is the concept of hidden identities.  The song Gold and Goldberg deals primarily with the theatre producers arguing over whether they should hide their Jewishness by changing the name "Goldberg" to "Golden".  While most productions take the line "Queenie was a blonde..." literally and cast a Jean Harlow/Marilyn Monroe-like blond bombshell, Michael Lachiusa interpreted a later line in the poem stanza to mean that Queenie was actually black, but trying to hide that fact since "Her face was a tinted mask of snow".   At the end of the show, she finally removes her makeup and reveals her true self.  Lachiusa was originally going to cast African-American actress Vanessa Williams in the part, but recast with blonde Toni Collette when Williams became pregnant.  And finally, Burrs performs his clown act in black face, putting it on almost like
warrior paint.

The Canadian Stage production of Wild Party resurrects Lachiusa's original concept of making Queenie a lighted-skinned mulatto (played by Cara Ricketts from Book of Negroes) but ups the ante by also casting a black actor, Daren A. Herbert, for the role of Burrs.  This led to the interesting proposition of having a black man wear black-face makeup, something that actually happened in vaudeville and minstrel shows in this period of history.  An interesting article in the Globe and Mail describes this practice as using a "clownish caricature" to accentuate blackness.  Herbert in particular is magnificent in his portrayal of the "sad clown" with a violent streak who struggles during the entire party to keep his emotions in check, until they explode at the end.  Herbert plays the role with enough pathos that you actually feel sorry for Burrs despite his volatile and destructive nature.

This CanStage production made choices for set and staging that take full advantage of the large floor space, fire escape staircase, upper balcony and even the aisles of the Berkeley Theatre to move the party goers around, allowing them to congregate or find private moments as required.  The dimly lit set had a smokey, grimy feel that was befitting of the debauchery that evolved over two-hour intermission-less show.

Of particular interest were the stage directions for the "secondary characters" who stayed onstage in the background while a main scene of dialogue or song was being performed.  While the spotlight shone on the main scene, demanding your attention, you could not help but glance around and notice various couples in the background making out, doing drugs, having an argument or even stripping nude and climbing into the bathtub–you definitely did not want to miss that action!  These secondary scenes were both fascinating and distracting at the same time.  In the Q&A session following the performance, the actors indicated that while it was scripted in general where they should be and who they were interacting with, much of what was actually happening in the background was improvised and changed from night to night.

In the end, while I still prefer the music of the Andrew Lippa version of Wild Party, I have come to appreciate the depth, complexity and period authenticity of the Michael Lachiusa version.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Theatre: Blithe Spirit

Noel Coward's classic 1941 play Blithe Spirit opens with author Charles Condomine and his second wife Ruth inviting a medium, Madam Arcati, to hold a seance, with Charles hoping to use the experience as research for his next book.  Madam Arcati unwittingly brings back the spirit of Charles' first wife Elvira, who died 7 years ago from a heart attack after "laughing too hard at a BBC series".  Hijinks ensue as Ruth tries to get rid of her ghostly rival while Elvira tries to kill her beloved Charles so that he can reunite with her in the spirit world.  Elvira's efforts backfire as she accidentally kills Ruth instead, and now poor Charles is haunted by ghosts of both wives.

We had already attended a performance of Blithe Spirit years ago at the Shaw Festival, so the main attraction of watching it again was the chance to see Angela Lansbury in her 2009 Tony Award winning role of Madame Arcati–and she does not disappoint!   Lansbury, who will be 90 this year, handles her many lines of dialogue with aplomb  and attacks the physically challenging role with an impressive amount of vim and vigour.  She delivers a hilarious performance as the medium who goes into trances during the seances, twitching and gesturing as if she was doing an Egyptian dance.  With her auburn wig and flamboyant clothes, Lansbury seems years younger than she actually is.  Considering that she performs six nights per week, one can only hope to have her stamina and energy at that age.

Adding a bit of extra excitement for Downton Abbey fans was the presence of actor Charles Edwards, who starred as Lady Edith's missing lover on the hit TV show.  Now we know where Michael Gregson went!  He's playing his namesake Charles Condomine in Blithe Spirit.

The set for this production had some intricate special effects that caused a table to shake and rattle during the seance, and the manor home to be torn apart by unseen ghosts towards the end of the play. 

Blithe Spirit is a fun play in its own right, made all the more special by the presence of Angela Lansbury.  It is interesting that Lansbury won the Tony for Best Featured (or supporting) Actress, but in this Mirvish production, she is billed and heavily hyped as the star of the show, receiving a loud round of applause when she first appeared on stage.  I guess this is fitting since it definitely would have been disappointing to attend the show and find an understudy in that role.  It was clear that Lansbury was the main reason to watch this production for much of the audience.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Theatre: Five Presidents

We love live theatre so much that we always look for opportunities to watch a play or musical while we are traveling.  Recently on a quick trip to Phoenix, Arizona to escape the cold, we were lucky enough to catch a performance of the play Five Presidents.  Created by Rick Cleveland, whose writing credits include the politically-based television hits "The West Wing" and "House of Cards", Five Presidents imagines what might have been discussed at the real-life event of Richard Nixon's 1994 funeral, which the five surviving past and present Presidents of the United States congregated to attend.

The play takes place in a conference room where Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H. Bush and Bill Clinton arrive one by one (in chronological order of presidency) to await the start of the funeral.  A secret service agent announces the approach of each president, possibly to clarify for the audience which one he is.  The perfect casting makes this unnecessary since the stature, makeup, accent and manner of speech of each actor helps him to fully embody his respective role.  From Bush's large oversized glasses to Carter's relatively diminutive height and tale-tell grin to lanky Reagan's jar of jelly beans, each man was easily identifiable.

The five engage in pleasantries and light banter, while occasionally allowing past grudges and differences to arise.  Carter still resents Reagan's tactics in delaying the release of the Iran hostages until after Reagan's election and is annoyed with Clinton for not choosing him for an important diplomatic mission.  Bush simmers over losing his second term election to Clinton and blames Ross Perot for splitting the Republican vote.  Ford thought the offer to be Reagan's Vice President was a step back after already being President in his own right.  Each President is called out for making questionable military decisions that led to the deaths of American soldiers or civilians, and each is remorsefully able to quote exactly how many people died under his watch.

Despite their disagreements, they all realize that they are part of a very unique and exclusive "President's Club" who need to support each other.  Only those who have held their position can understand the stresses that they endured.  They are all annoyed at Nixon, since his downfall has changed the political landscape for the presidents that followed him.  The reverence once held for the presidency has diminished and public scrutiny has increased.  But none of them can say that they don't have their own political demons to face.

This mutual support is especially highlighted by the protective nature with which each of the other presidents try to guard the dignity of Ronald Reagan, who is suffering from the early stages of dementia.  Despite his occasionally confused ramblings, they treat him with a respect and tenderness that was sweet to watch.  The presidents also bonded over their shared experiences of having survived assassination attempts.  Ford described with incredulity that he was actually trying to shake the hand of his assassin when he was shot.  Reagan said that he didn't even realize that he had been shot.

The main dramatic impetus of Five Presidents revolves around Gerald Ford's refusal to deliver the eulogy for Richard Nixon, despite being listed on the program to do so.  Still stinging from the public outrage at his pardoning of Nixon, Ford did not want his eulogy to be interpreted as condoning the disgraced ex-president once again.  Each of the other presidents try to talk Ford into reconsidering and delivering the eulogy, except for Reagan, who offers to make the speech himself.  The others try to talk him out of it without revealing their fear that he will embarrass himself in his diminished capacities.

There are moments of humour in the play, as well as some foreshadowing of future events that have come to pass.  Clinton discusses a time when he and Hilary stopped at a gas station and came across her old boyfriend.  He said "You could have been married to a gas station attendant", to which she replied "No, I would have been married to the President of the United States", implying that she was the power behind the man–any man!  There were also thinly veiled allusions to the Monica Lewinsky affair in Clinton's future. George H. Bush threw in a few jabs at his own son, George W.  Gerald Ford spent most of the play trying not to drink alcohol, quipping that it was difficult to be an alcoholic when your wife has a substance abuse treatment center named after her.  There was also mention of the fact that in 1968 (true story), Senator Robert Kennedy predicted that in 40 years, there would be a black President.  Prescient almost to the day, Barack Obama was inaugurated in January 2009.

One of the most poignant moments of the play was also based on fact.  Gerard Ford justified his pardoning of Richard Nixon by carrying around "a portion of the text of Burdick v. United States, a 1915 U.S. Supreme Court decision which stated that a pardon indicated a presumption of guilt, and that acceptance of a pardon was tantamount to a confession of that guilt."  He felt that instead of a lengthy trial, the pardon was a faster way to end the national tragedy of Watergate and start the healing process for the country.

The amount of historical information conveyed throughout this play is astounding and is testament to the intensive research performed by Rick Cleveland in writing it.  Cleveland has created a humorous yet touching account of what might have taken place at such a momentous event, injecting dialogue that is entertaining and yet so totally plausible that it is difficult to discern which details he made up and which ones were based on fact.

Although being Canadian and only having cursory previous knowledge about these five men, I still thoroughly enjoyed this play.  So I could only imagine how much greater appreciation Americans would have for it.  At one point, after a rousing speech by the Reagan character, a voice behind us whispered, "You tell them, Gipper!"