Just in time for the 2016 presidential election, theatres across the country are staging shows about politics, past and present. Audiences who are still hungry for politics after following the campaign for months will have many shows to choose from this fall. From local to national politics, presidential plays to plays about Supreme Court justices, young and old audiences, there’s something for any civic-minded person.
44 Plays for 44 Presidents
The popular series of short plays, written by Andy Bayiates, Sean Benjamin, Genevra Gallo-Bayiates, Chloe Johnston, and Karen Weinberg—one for every president of the United States so far—looks to be an election-year favorite. An all-female cast will be at Cleveland Public Theatre Oct. 6-29, in a production directed by Dan Kilbane and Caitlin Lewins. Becca Holloway will direct a production at Oil Lamp Theater in Glenview, Ill., Oct. 6-Nov. 13. And Merrimack Repertory will add a 45th play in 45 Plays for 45 Presidents, helmed by artistic director Sean Daniels and running Sept. 7-Oct. 2. We look forward to seeing who will be playing Donald Drumpf at Merrimack!
Peter Stone and Sherman Edwards’ musical dramatization of the signing of the Declaration of Independence will be onstage at Virginia Repertory Theatre in Richmond, Sept. 30-Oct. 23, in a production directed by Debra Clinton. Fun fact: There’s a 1776 reference in Hamilton (“Sit down, John!”)
All the Way
Robert Schenkkan’s Tony-winning play about “accidental president” Lyndon B. Johnson follows Johnson’s first year in office as he struggles to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 while trying to run an election campaign. Giovanna Sardelli directs a production at Cleveland Play House Sept. 17-Oct. 9, while Marc Masterson oversees a version at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa, Calif., Sept. 2-Oct. 2.
This portrait of Texas governor Ann Richards, written and originally performed by Holland Taylor, takes the stage at Cardinal Stage Company in Bloomington, Ind., Sept. 1-9. Diane Kondrat, a Bloomington native, will embody the political dynamo famous for her one-liners, in a production directed by Mary Beth Fisher.
Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson
Before there was Hamilton there was this Public-Theater-to-Broadway historical-fan-fiction pop musical. Alex Timbers and Michael Friedman’s emo romp through the life of the controversial populist president is playing at American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, Va., June 15-Nov. 26.
City of Conversation
Set in Washington, D.C., in 1979, Anthony Giardina’s play explores how politics can separate us from those we love. The story follows socialite Hester Ferris, whose dinner parties can change the course of elections. But when her son brings home a new Reaganite girlfriend, it leads to a family divide that spans 30 years and six administrations. Delaware Theatre Company in Wilmington will stage a production directed by William Roudebush Oct. 26-Nov. 13, and Northlight Theater in Skokie, Ill., will put up a production directed by Marti Lyons Sept. 15-Oct. 23.
Duck for President
You’re never too young to start learning about politics. This theatre-for-young-audiences play, based on the book by Doreen Cronin and adapted by James E. Grote, with music and lyrics by George Howe, follows Duck as he campaigns to become the leader of the free world. the show quacks its way to Main Street Theater in Houston Sept. 27-Oct. 28.
Act II Playhouse in Ambler, Penn., is putting in a bid for political yuks. This comedy show—written by and starring Tony Braithwaite, Will Dennis, and Tracie Higgins—includes impressions, man-on-the-street interviews, and more. Braithwaite directs the production, which runs Sept. 6-Oct. 9.
The Gun Show
Playwright E.M. Lewis wants to have a conversation about gun control, a hot topic this election season. During the production at Coho Productions in Portland, Ore., Sept. 9-Oct. 1, Lewis will sit in the audience while Vin Shambry performs five of Lewis’s stories about guns. Directed by Shawn Lee, the production will also make room for audience discussion, as each performance will be followed by a talkback.
Grace for President
When third-grader Grace Campbell discovers there has never been a female American president, she decides to begin her political career by running in her school’s election. When the most popular boy in school decides to run against her, she learns what it takes to lead. Joan Cushing’s musical for young audiences, based on Kelly S. DiPucchio’s book, will be onstage at Aurora Theatre in Lawrenceville, Ga., Oct. 6-21, in a production directed by Jaclyn Hofmann, and Children’s Theater of Charlotte will stage the tuner Oct. 21-Nov. 6.
Hold These Truths
Before Allegiance there was Jeanne Sakata’s solo show about World War II internment camps for Japanese Americans. Sakata’s play follows 24-year-old college student Gordon Hirabayashi in Seattle as he fights against the government’s ruling to set up the camps, and for the ensuing 50 years as he fights for redress. Lisa Rothe will direct a production at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis Oct. 7-23, and Portland Center Stage’s production, helmed by Jessica Kubzansky, will play Oct. 1-Nov. 13.
It Can’t Happen Here
Does this sound familiar: A charismatic and corrupt politician runs for president promising to “return the country to greatness”? It’s not a news flash from the current campaign but a description of the premise of Sinclair Lewis’s cautionary 1935 novel. Lewis and John C. Moffitt adapted the book into a play in 1936; now Tony Taccone and Bennett Cohen’s new take on the story will have its world premiere at California’s Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Sept. 23-Nov. 6, in a production directed by Lisa Peterson. Told from the perspective of a liberal journalist, the play explores what happens when populism isn’t what’s best for the country.
Know Your Rites
The Living Theater is continuing the cause of cofounder Judith Malina and embarking on a 20-city tour over 3 weeks, Aug. 15-Sept. 4, in this theatrical experience, which seeks a “reawakening of one’s rights and rites.” The tour will include readings, workshops, street performances, and presentations of Malina’s seminal Seven Meditations on Political Sado-Masochism, which is described as “a visceral examination of the social contract between the governed and the government.” The play originally bowed in 1973, the same year Malina and members of the company were imprisoned and tortured by the Médici dictatorship in Brazil.
Rock the Presidents
This musical tribute to the 44 presidents of the United States, with book and lyrics by Dwayne Hartford and music by Sarah Roberts, will play at Childsplay in Tempe, Ariz., Oct. 22-Nov. 13.
In her take on one of the most momentous Supreme Court decisions in history, Roe v. Wade, Lisa Loomer looks at the complicated personal lives of the major players in the historic case. The play, part of Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s American Revolutions project, is currently in a production directed by Bill Rauch, April 20-Oct. 29, which will move to Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., Jan. 12-Feb. 19, 2017. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a fan of the theatre, and of reproductive rights, so who wants to bet that she’ll show?
Scenes from Court Life, or the whipping boy and his prince
Sarah Ruhl explores dynastic privilege in this world premiere at Yale Repertory Theatre, Sept. 30-Oct. 22. Directed by Mark Wing Davey, the play remixes history, looking at the relationships between father-son Charles I and Charles II in 17th-century Britain—and siblings Jeb and George W. Bush in the present day.
The Ticket: An Imaginary Meeting Between Wally Hickel and Jay Hammond
Set in 1990 leading up to the Alaskan gubernatorial election, Dick Reichman’s play imagines a fictional crossing of paths between two of the state’s governors, who were political enemies. The world premiere, commissioned by Cyrano’s Theatre Company, will play at the Anchorage, Alaska-based theatre Sept. 8-Oct. 9.
The story of the first African-American Supreme Court justice comes to life in George Stevens Jr.’s play, which will be onstage at Atlanta’s Theatrical Outfit Sept. 9-Oct. 16.
Jon Robin Baitz’s new play follows a tailor who works for a real estate tycoon and a reality TV star who becomes a presidential nominee (whoever might be his inspiration?). The satirical work explores the role of image and secrecy in politics, and its world premiere will be directed by Robert Egan at Center Theater Group’s Kirk Douglas Theatre Oct. 23-Nov. 20.