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44 Plays For 44 Presidents In 90 Minutes

By Rob Christopher in Arts & Entertainment on Sep 5, 2012 3:20PM

"Callin' the Blue" by Andy Thomas
The original 2002 production of 43 Plays For 43 Presidents had a mighty successful run, but it was only the beginning for the theatrical presidential survey. New productions of the Neo-Futurists' play began to pop up elsewhere, including a production in Atlanta that was seen by former President Jimmy Carter about a week after he’d won the Nobel Prize. It's been performed a few dozen times all over the country. Now, just in time for the 2012 election, the Neos are remounting it ... in a big way.

The newly updated show 44 Plays for 44 Presidents is not only being staged here in Chicago but is part of an incredibly ambitious nationwide festival which aims to facilitate 44 separate productions of the mini-plays that make up the play. The crazy thing? They already have more than 44 high school, college, and theater companies on board. Their contributions will be recorded and stitched together into a composite video.

The show condenses the A to Z of POTUS into about 90 minutes, from Washington through Obama, complete with an updated "Choose Your Own Adventure"-style coda which includes a Romney option. We saw a 2004 production and found it thoroughly engaging, entertaining, and funny. And, at times, depressing; when it comes to presidential politics, the more things change the more they stay the same. Unless Theater Oobleck stages a surprise encore of The Strangerer, the Neos' 44 Plays For 44 Presidents will undoubtedly be the juiciest piece of pre-Election Day theater on offer. Aside from the campaign trail itself of course.

As part of the new edition, the Neos will be transforming the theater's waiting room (a.k.a. State Park) into the basketball court of the "Electoral College Prep Academy." Patrons who arrive early will learn some presidential trivia as well as interact with some customized basketballs. That's probably the closest most of us will ever get to shooting hoops with Obama and Michael Jordan.

44 Plays For 44 Presidents opens Oct. 6 and runs through Nov. 10. Tickets are $20, $10 for students/seniors with ID, or pay-what-you-can on Thursdays. All performances take place at The Neo-Futurarium, 5153 N. Ashland