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Looking Over the President's Shoulder

a Drama
CATEGORY :
by James Still

COMPANY : Theatre in the Square [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Theatre in the Square [WEBSITE]
ID# 3186

SHOWING : September 28, 2008 - November 11, 2008

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

In this Monologue White House Usher Alonzo Fields reminisces about four administrations and much of American 20th Centiry History.


CAST & CREW LIST
Scenic Designer Jon Nooner
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REVIEWS

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Silent Witness
by Dedalus
Monday, October 13, 2008
4.5
To be sure, not much happens in James Still’s “Looking Over the President’s Shoulder,” currently on view at Marietta’s Theatre in the Square. A man, waiting for a bus, talks to us, alone and unsupported. At the end, he catches his bus and moves on with his life. That’s it.

But, oh my stars and bars, what he talks about! His name is Alonzo Fields (played with quiet intensity by Barry Scott). And, for twenty-two years (1931 – 1953), he was a servant at the White House. He was a silent witness to four presidencies, two wars, one economic recovery, and countless state visits by the dignitaries from abroad and the not-so-dignitaries from Hollywood. He knew Marian Anderson before the world ever heard a note. And, today, no one knows his name.

The appeal of this play, of this collection of anecdotes, is its uncanny ability to let us share Mr. Fields’ witness, to make us similar “flies on the wall” of great events and great people, to make those great people human – Errol Flynn drunkenly cavorting about the White House, Mr. and Mrs. Hoover dressing formally for family dinners, Eleanor Roosevelt creating a maelstrom of activity just be being home, Winston Churchill skinny-dipping in Florida, The King of England steadfastly suppressing a stammer to toast his World War II Allies, Mr. Truman sending flowers to the funeral of Fields’ mother. These are the details that stick out, the moments of history we seldom think about, seldom know, seldom acknowledge.

The irony is that throughout his career, Alonzo Fields had to stand by silently, not even giving a hint of what he heard, what he witnessed. He could even have been fired for smiling at a joke told at dinner. And, he was in the last place he wanted to be. A musician by training and inclination, he would rather be in Boston (or his native Indiana) singing or teaching music. But he had a family to support and job opportunities were scarce for opera singers, least of all African-American opera singers. In one cruel throw-away line, he comments that it was alright to invite Marian Anderson to the White House to sing, but she would never be asked to dine.

Another thing that stood out for me was how life at the white house could change so drastically from administration to administration. The Hoovers were sober Quakers who rarely entertained, who treated their staff with quiet respect. The Roosevelt White House was a beehive of activity and tension and witness to a parade of world leaders and celebrities; but they were, at heart, aristocrats who treated the staff well, but with tolerance rather than acceptance. The Trumans were egalitarians, who introduced their staff to visitors by name, who treated them as equals. The Eisenhowers were unpredictable, but distant (at the Inaugural luncheon, Mr. Fields even gives a foreshadowing “He needs to grow up” observation about new Vice-President Nixon).

Mr. Scott captures Alonzo Fields in all his quiet dignity. He never raises his voice, always keeps our interest, loses himself in reverie at a sudden memory, a sudden hint of song. If his “role-playing” is more Barry Scott than Alonzo Fields, I could accept the device. Alone on stage for two 45-minute monologues, he rarely varies his volume or pitch, but he is never monotonous, always engaging. This is a performance to remember, as I’m sure I will.

Before seeing this play, I had never heard of Alonzo Fields or Barry Scott. To be sure, this play has sparked my interest, and I have been googling them both all morning.

Before seeing this play, I thought I knew the Presidents, their politics and characters, the way they treated the world. After hearing the words of this previously silent witness, I realize how little I know.

Alonzo Fields left the White House in 1953, soon after the administration of Dwight Eisenhower began. He lived for over forty years after that. But the play, the narrative, ends with that bus ride away from history. That, my friends, is our loss.

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)
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