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THEATER REVIEW

Cast your vote for '43 Plays'

From Washington to the current Bush, our commanders in chief prove captivating.

October 02, 2008|David C. Nichols | Special to The Times

If Jon Stewart, the Smothers Brothers and the League of Women Voters invaded the Hall of Presidents at Disney World, the results might resemble "43 Plays for 43 Presidents" at Sacred Fools Theater. This vitally engaging survey of every American chief executive turns acute pertinence into exhilarating theatricality.

First produced by the Neo-Futurists of Chicago, "43 Plays" sifts presidential history -- and facts forgotten by history -- into a quasi-vaudeville that fits set and prop designer Tifanie McQueen's austere portico as disarmingly as the "Direct Quote" sign that flashes atop the proscenium.

Written by Andrew Bayiates, Sean Benjamin, Genevra Gallo, Chloe Johnston and Karen Weinberg, the 43 short plays represent a rare case of multiple writers forming a more perfect union. Their prismatic, annotated approach spurs director Paul Plunkett and a superb ensemble to run the agitprop gamut, from hilariously ironic to gravely arresting.

Bayiates' opener, "George Washington in the Garden of Eden," finds the magnetic Michael Holmes' faintly bewildered commander in chief donning a symbolic coat of office, hinting at the cavalcade ahead. The stylistic diversity serves each subject, whether it's sly Rafeal Clements leading the charge in Weinberg's "Teddy," or piquant Tina Van Berckelaer's ineptly professorial Woodrow Wilson in Benjamin's "A Lecture on Myself."

Throughout, audience-contact tactics are apt, and the final maneuver registers a masterstroke. Aided by designer John Sylvain's dense lighting, Mary McIlwain's unfussy costumes, Jaime Robledo's kaleidoscopic sound and Adam Bitterman's projection graphics, the effect is delightfully, thoughtfully provocative, which distinguishes this ineluctable L.A. premiere.

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"43 Plays for 43 Presidents," Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Ave., L.A. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 26 only. Ends Oct. 26. $25. (310) 281-8337. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes

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