Often, its not just the who, what and why that make a history lesson viable but the how as in how you tell it. Thats the premise behind 43 Plays for 43 Presidents, a witty, sardonic collection of miniplays about the American presidency. Studded with song and dance, these distinctive one- to five-minute segments originally created by five writer-performers of Chicagos Neo-Futurists theater ensemble reveal some basic human truths about the 43 individuals who have inhabited the Oval Office (as well as some uncomfortable aspects of our nations political legacy). Each segment plucks facts from the textbook version of history and combines them with lesser-known, more subversive revelations. Among the famous, the infamous and the all-but-forgotten, only a few, including George Washington (Michael Holmes), emerge with their reputations untarnished. The ironic portraits include John Adams (Kelley Hazen) as a fretful neurotic, who signed legislation that shredded the Bill of Rights; Indian fighter William Henry Harrison (Tina Van Berckelaer), who enthusiastically exterminated thousands of Native Americans but on his deathbed sought treatment from a Native American healer; and Ulysses Grant (Rafael Clements), who, as a young man despised guns but was forced by his father to attend West Point. Of particular interest this election season is the sketch about the 1876 electoral-college shenanigans that put popular-vote loser Rutherford B. Hayes in the White House. Directed by Paul Plunkett, this production features an accomplished ensemble of six, adept at underscoring both the playful and the poignant.
Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 21, 7 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 26, 7 p.m. Starts: Sept. 19. Continues through Oct. 26, 2008