Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Bully Pulpit

I spent Saturday afternoon with Teddy Roosevelt. At least it seemed that way with Michael O. Smith's spirited portrayal of the former president in the new Off-Broadway play, THE BULLY PULPIT. I felt I was having coffee with him, listening to the stories of his fascinating life, comfortably nestled in the wood-paneled study scenic designer Charles Corcoran has created so perfectly on the stage of the Beckett Theatre.

I’m sure Smith is a good actor any time -- his credits are impressive -- but what makes this portrayal so strong certainly must be his passion for the role; Smith is the playwright as well as sole member of the cast. His exploration into the life of the 26th president of the United States began more than 15 years ago in a class at this church that catered to individuals involved in the media.  According to press notes, the class was told to choose an American hero and create a presentation about that person’s ethics.  Not only did Smith discover Roosevelt's unyielding ethics, but also found his passions, his failures and the humor with which he lived his whole life. What started out as 10-minute presentation is Los Angeles in the early 1990s has evolved into a delightful two-act production.  

With an amazing physical likeness to Roosevelt, Smith has developed a play that shows all facets of the man who is known as a President, but who was also a rancher, writer, sportsman, environmentalist and adventurer.  Taking place in 1918 on his 60th birthday, surrounded by mementos of his adventures, Roosevelt reexamines the events of his colorful life from his humorous and characteristically blunt perspective.

In a program note, Smith says he wanted to emphasize the “fun” he discovered in the man, and he has done that well, starting by having Roosevelt quote an old saying about politicians: “Politicians and diapers should be changed frequently, and many times for the same reason.” With that he had the audience in the palm of his hand, and he kept us there throughout the show. Our visit with the president was two hours. I would gladly have stayed longer.

THE BULLY PULPIT premiered at The Florida Playwrights Festival at Florida’s Studio Theatre in 2004 and has played theaters throughout the country. Directed by Byam Stevens, it runs through June 29 at The Samuel Beckett Theatre, 410 W. 42nd St. on Theatre Row. Tickets may be purchased by calling (212) 279-4200, or by visiting www.TicketCentral.com.

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