“Five Presidents” – Arizona Theatre Company

This review aired on KBAQ February 9, 2015



Arizona Theatre Company, Center Stage, Herberger Theater Center

Phoenix, AZ

Eavesdropping on five American presidents is an interesting goal of anyone enamored of U. S. history or who marvels at Presidential power.  And that’s exactly what you do in “Five Presidents,” Arizona Theatre Company’s exemplary world premiere production of Rick Cleveland’s fascinating new play.  It brings together the five living presidents as they gather for Richard Nixon’s funeral on April 27, 1994 in Yorba Linda, California.

Those present include Bill Clinton, the current office holder, George H. W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and Gerald Ford.  Although this imaginary gathering never occurred, playwright Rick Cleveland sets it in a non-descript room at The Nixon Library prior to the service.  The meeting provides a fascinating discussion that allows us to discover something of each man’s unique personality and character, how they handle a group situation, and insights into the intellectual capacity of each president.

It provides perspectives on these men who led our nation, how some of their decisions were based on political expediency as opposed to knowledge, and how these men have the same prejudices many Americans possess.  The discussion is like one any group of Americans might enter into when they are with friends or associates.  We learn that these men didn’t necessarily like each other and we also learn some little known facts about each chief executive.  For example, it wasn’t just Bill Clinton who indulged in extra martial relations.

Much of the success of a play like “Five Presidents” rests with the actors playing the historical figures we know from television news footage.  And the five actors ATC found are marvelous.  Each captures the verbal and physical characteristics of the president they portray.  Mark Jacoby seems just a bit inhibited as George H. W. Bush, Martin L’Heraultis’ is a short and scrappy Carter, Steve Sheridan is a confident Reagan, Jeff Steitzer is a commanding Ford who leads this group of presidents effectively, and Brit Whittle is a relaxed Clinton.

Director Mark Clements makes the men’s movement natural as the play points out which of these men aren’t natural public speakers and how challenging it is for some to chat easily with the others.

“Five Presidents” leaves you with new insights into how things occurred in each of these presidential terms and you’ll gain insights into each of these presidents’ personalities.  “Five Presidents” runs at the Herberger Theater Center through February 22.  For tickets, call the Arizona Theatre Company box office at 602-256-6995 or order tickets online at www.arizonatheatre.org.

Grade: B