Thursday, November 3, 2011

It Can't Happen Here (The Final)

Cleveland Public Theatre hosted the Cleveland staged reading of "It Can’t Happen Here" on Monday, October 24, 2011. The event was directed by David Hansen and featured Case Western Reserve University adjunct professor John Vacha, author of "Showtime In Cleveland," the definitive history of Cleveland theater.

The company represented a cross-section of regional, professional theater. Dremus Jessup was performed by Dr. Michael Mauldin, head of the Cleveland State University theater department. Mary Greenhill was read by Cleveland Play House Associat Artistic Director Laura Kepley, and Dr. Fowler Greenhill by Ms. Kepley’s real-life husband, acclaimed playwright George Brant. Company also included Great Lakes Theater actor-teachers Brian McNally and Tim Keo, Cleveland Public Theater Associate Artistic Director Elizabeth Wood, as well as local professionals Myles Byrd, Mark Cipra, Elisa Hanna, Hester Lewellen, Brian Pedaci and Lew Wallace.

This reading, free and open to the public, was attended by 50 audience members. The evening opened with a “curtain raiser,” a reading of a ten-minute comic scene from David Hansen’s "Cleveland Centennial." This brief “Living Newspaper” style scene describes a fictional backstage account of the actual opening night of "It Can’t Happen Here" in Cleveland in 1936, but also includes actual quotations from Hallie Flanagan, Sinclair Lewis and local and nation critical response to the production. Presenting this scene was an entertaining way of providing historical context of this event to that evening’s 2011 audience.

Following this, John Vacha shared a 5-minute presentation including slides from opening night of the Cleveland production at the Carter Theatre at East 9th and Prospect. The full “September, 1936” version of "It Can’t Happen Here" was read with one, ten-minute intermission. Read with intensity, speed, humor and pathos, the running time of the reading itself was less than two hours, playing something like a “radio drama.” After the reading was concluded, Hansen and Vacha fielded a few questions from the audience. Some familiar with the book pointed up differences between that and this stage version, and asked if any changes had been made to make the story take place in Ohio (there were, as was done for the Cleveland production in 1936.) They wanted to know how successful the Cleveland production of "It Can’t Happen Here" was (it was very successful, and only closed because of scheduling.)

Response to the play itself was very, very positive. Many were impressed at how topical the script remains, and asked if there were any plans for a fully-staged production.

Earlier in the day Hansen and Vacha were interviewed on the local NPR affiliate, WCPN.

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