- OnStage Massachusetts Critic
Opening up the 2016-2017 season on the Merrimack Repertory Theatre stage is a unique and very funny production of “45 Plays for 45 Presidents”. It has been written, rewritten and added to by Andy Bayiates, Sean Benjamin, Genevra Gallo-Bayiates, Chloe Johnston, and Karen Weinberg since it was first created as “43 Plays for 43 Presidents”. Each play is about 2 minutes long and each focuses on a different president. The show begins with George Washington and ends with a play about the next president: either Hilary Clinton or Donald Trump; as elected by the audience. Five fantastically versatile and wonderfully comedic actors play not only the presidents, but other historical figures during each time period. This show is a fast-paced look at the past leaders of our country, their presidency, what they’re remembered for and a few unknown facts about them.
The set featured square boxes with quotation marks, the word “quote” or a comic strip-like talking bubble. These boxes lit up red when an actual quote from one of the presidents was said. There was also a large oval picture frame at center stage where projections were seen throughout the show. On either side of the frame were pieces of a very large dollar bill. This very cool and unique scenic design was created by Michael B. Raiford with projections designed by Ido Levran. Throughout the production props and costume pieces are used to bring each president and their term(s) in office to life. One costume piece that was passed from president to president was a suit jacket with a sequined American flag on the back. Costumes were designed by A. Lee Viliesis and were simple, yet able to transcend time. The lighting was designed by Brian J. Lilienthal and the sound was designed by Stowe Nelson.
Imaginatively directed by Sean Daniels, this cast features Celina Dean, Veronika Duerr, Aaron Muñoz, Nael Nacer and Terrell Donnell Sledge. In just over two hours they use dozens of props, costume pieces, and many story-telling devices to show the audience our greatest and worst moments as a country. We learn new things about presidents that may not have been covered in our history classes. Ultimately, we further realize that the story of our country is written by us when we vote. It is a story that we can effect this November when we choose our 45th president.
A few highlights from act one include Aaron Muñoz as Benjamin Franklin “roasting” Thomas Jefferson, played by Veronika Duerr. Nael Nacer and Terrell Donnell Sledge got the majority of the audience chuckling during their interaction as Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren. Veronika Duerr was intense when stabbing red balloons with a knife as she portrayed William Henry Harrison and his killing Indians to take over their lands. Terrell Donnell Sledge, as Abraham Lincoln, led the group in a captivating song about one of the most well-known presidents.
Act two also featured a number of memorable plays including the group portraying Theodore Roosevelt, complete with mustaches, as Duerr, portraying his daughter, narrated. Nael Nacer, as Woodrow Wilson, gave a short but informative lecture on the only president to have earned his PhD. The group, donned in sparkly flag vests, sang a song about Richard Nixon, led by Aaron Muñoz. Veronika Duerr was hilarious as Bill Clinton (when you see it you’ll see why). The election controversy between George W. Bush and Al Gore was hysterically done by Aaron Muñoz and Celina Dean. Terrell Donnell Sledge displayed some great jump rope skills as he portrayed current president Barack Obama. The last play, as chosen by the audience, was a nicely done rap by Celina Dean as Hilary Clinton.
If you, like many others, need a break from the current political battle taking place, I suggest you check out this intelligent, non-partisan production. It may give you fresh perspective on our past, remind you of what we’ve accomplished, and recharge your American spirit to go out and urge those around you to vote this November. As we’ve learned from the past every vote counts, and as we look towards the future, this amusing, but thought-provoking production is just what we need to remind us that we are writing our history. © “45 Plays For 45 Presidents” is on stage at Merrimack Repertory Theatre until October 2nd and tickets range from $70-$26. To purchase tickets or find more information visit www.mrt.org or call 978-654-4678.
45Playsfor45Presidents----A splashy musical number for Richard Nixon. Terrell Donnell Sledge, Veronika Duerr, Aaron Munoz, Celina Dean, Nael Nacer. Photo by Meghan Moore
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