Produced by: Foothill Theatre
Directed by: Bruce mcLeod
Featuring: Vic Prosak, Gwendolyne Wagner, Jacon Gunter, Daniel Warburton, Daniel Cardenas, Carla Befera, Bianca Marconcini, Richard Hornor, Seton Chiang, Jorge Diaz, Alexis Standridge, Thomas Times, Henri Boulanger, John Castillo, Kyle Dayrit, Abbey Eklund, Autumn Gonzalez, Emma Sazio, Amara Snow Miller, Austin Valliani
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays
Dates: November 2-19, 2017
Where: Lohman Theatre, Foothill College, 12345 El Monte Road, Los Altos Hills
Tickets: $10-$20; visit www.foothill.edu/theatre/ or call 650-949-7360
'It Can't Happen Here'
by Tony Taccone, Bennett S. Cohen
The parallels between Sinclair Lewis' 1935 novel "It Can't Happen Here" and the election of Donald Trump are many and disturbing.
A racist, misogynistic but charismatic blowhard who promises more than he can deliver and is popular with the poorly educated is elected president. He declares war on journalism and encourages thugs in his crowds to beat up anybody who protests against him.
In 1935, Lewis saw what was happening in Europe with Hitler, who also declared war on journalism and encourages thugs in his crowds to beat up any protesters.
When Trump was elected, sales of "It Can't Happen Here" surged, and the book even made it on to Amazon's Top 10 list for a while.
Tony Taccone, artistic director at Berkeley Rep, and Bennett S. Cohen started writing a new play based on the Lewis novel before Trump was elected, and said he and his acquaintances were shocked when Trump actually was elected. After the play's run ended at Berkeley Rep — two days before the election — the show has gone on to be produced across the nation, especially at colleges.
Such as at Foothill College, where director Bruce McLeod has gathered a mixed group of theater veterans and college students to stage the powerful play through November 19, 2017.
Foothill has an excellent theater program. I've seen a number of young performers go from Foothill to larger companies nationwide, including TheatreWorks Silicon Valley.
The challenge at Foothill is always that plays with large casts are required, so lots of students can get some experience. The amazing truth is that very often, the shows are excellent, and the few student errors easily forgiven.
While there are several fine performances in this production, there are also some actors who really weren't ready for prime time. Actors who didn't quite commit to their roles, actors who didn't know how to project their voices, even on the smallish stage of the Lohman Theatre.
But, forgive and forget and let's move on with the excellent performances, such as Thomas Times as Buzz Windrip, the populist blowhard who is elected president. As McLeod has staged this in the Lohman Theatre, with the audience practically in the laps of the actors (or vice versa), Times is a powerful force in the room, whipping up the crowd (with the use of cue cards) and making us like him.
Vic Prosak has the huge role of Doremus Jessup, the journalist voice of logic who opposes Windrip with essays in the press. "They'll vote for Windrip because he makes them feel safe," Jessup says, "but they aren't actually listening to what he says."
Jessup, as delivered by Prosak is angry and frustrated and depressed, as he wrestles with trying to get readers to understand that Windrip is a danger. And, he has a bad marriage, but is comforted by the love and solid logic of his partner in protest, Lorinda, played with skill by Carla Befera.
Befera, who was an award-winning actor all over the Bay Area before stepping off stage to raise her children, has been called in before by her husband — Bruce McLeod — and anytime I've seen her in a Foothill show, I've wanted to say, "Look, kids! A real actor is here!" She always commits to delivering full characterizations.
Lorinda, like Jessup, sees Windrip for what he is.
Once Windrip takes office, things go bad in a hurry. The press is muzzled, habeas corpus is suspended, and gangs of Windrip's thugs — The League of Forgotten Men — grab dissenters and imprison them or execute them. Small colleges are closed. Education becomes political indoctrination.
Democracy is denied.
Jessup tries to escape to Canada with his family, but is turned back at the border by thugs in a snow storm. Eventually he is imprisoned in a concentration camp. Things continue to get worse. More people die.
The resistance busts Jessop out of the camp, and although he's been shot, he survives to continue the fight to restore democracy. In a fine touch added by McLeod, the show ends with protestors using their cellphones and computer tablets to organize resistance.
The play starts rather slowly, with Jessup intoning his warnings, and some of the people around him, including his own son, starting to praise Windrip.
When Times shows up as Windrip, things get exciting, and stay strong. Events set our nerves on edge, an effect exacerbated to good effect by a loud horn in the concentration camp scenes.
The show is narrated by most of the cast. They occasionally stand there and tell us what's going on, which helps compress the story. We are told that Windrip has installed his thugs as a kind of personal guard in the White House. That he has taken to carrying his own gun. That he has shot his guards and left the United States with $4 million in cash.
Some in the cast are very good. Seton Chang has a mellifluous, deep voice and commits very well to his two roles, as Bishop Prang, and as Effingham Swan, a thugs commander who delights in verbally torturing Jessup. Alexis Standridge was solid and likeable as Sissy Jessup, one of Jessup's children. Autumn Gonzalez was solid in ensemble parts, but delightful as Foolish, the dog. She barked, she panted like a dog, she curled up to sleep under Jessup's desk, occasionally twitching like dogs will do. Fun.
Prosak, as Jessup, does a fine job of taking the journalist through his tortured life. We see the horror, we see the loneliness, we see the despair. And, we see the courage as he lives his credo, "taking action as an individual for the benefit of the group."
Sound design by Max Stanylov was excellent, with everything from twittering birds in a meadow to those loud horns. Chiara Cola's costumes were excellent. Lighting designer Dan Wadleigh did a fine job — I especially liked the soft displays that were the light thrown by fireworks. Scenic design by Lynn Grant was a bit stark, but that worked well enough for this story. The concentration camp was very good.
Email John Orr at firstname.lastname@example.org