Friday, February 12, 2016

theatre review - LOOKING OVER THE PRESIDENT'S SHOULDER - Black Theatre Troupe - February 11, 2016

Walter Belcher
photo: Laura Durant
Click here for more information on this production that runs through February 21st.

"...Alonzo Fields, who was the grandson of a freed slave, worked at the White House for 21 years and was the first black man to be promoted to Head Butler...The one man play Looking Over the President's Shoulder is told from Fields’ perspective of serving under four presidents through some of the more trying times in American history: Pearl Harbor, the rise of Hitler and the Korean War. Black Theatre Troupe presents a smartly directed and well-acted production of James Still’s play. It’s just too bad that the play, while moving and poignant at times and offering an interesting look at America’s complicated history of racism and classism at that time, is stuffed with too many small facts and not enough emphasis on the serious historical moments of the time and also is somewhat vague about Fields’ family. ...Herbert Hoover, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower were the four U.S. Presidents that Fields worked for during his 21 years and Still treats them all fairly, providing new insights into these famous men..It is an interesting play full of facts and remembrances. However, while we understand how Fields’ position demanded that he give up so much of his own personal life, it’s still unclear in the play as to what happened to Fields’ wife and daughter during his over 20 year tenure...Also, Fields comes across mainly as an emotionless observer. That is the role he was forced to play at the White House but it means we never really get a full understanding of the man..But those issues are all faults of the play and not the Black Theatre Troupe production. Director Pasha Yamotahari keeps the two hour play moving briskly. He uses Thom Gilseth’s smart but simply designed set wisely...He adds plenty of movement to not let the play get bogged down. There are a lot of facts and plenty of details about the White House, the Presidents, and world events that Fields mentions in the play, so the fact that it never feels overly long is a testament to Yamotahari’s ability to keep things moving and focused. He also gets an impressive performance from Walter Belcher as Fields. Belcher is powerful and forthright in his portrayal, yet also emotional, moving and touching when needed. It is a well-rounded performance full of nuance and also provides Belcher the chance to play many of the world figures who Fields came into contact with, which he does with ease. ...offers a unique perspective from a man who was in the room where many world events happened and where famous guests attended. While the play could be a little clearer it still offers us the chance and the ability, as Fields states in the play, of "being in the front row and watching the passing parade of history."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

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