Tuesday, February 16, 2010

City Equity Theatre/Birmingham at Huntingdon: "Bully"

Theodore Roosevelt was an extraordinary and multifaceted man: statesman, historian, conservationist as well as a hunter, author of over 30 books, devotee of physical fitness, foreign affairs mediator, Nobel Peace Prize winner, Harvard educated family man, and the 26th President of the United States. He had an extraordinary network of friends & aquaintances from ordinary citizens to celebrities and heads of state, and a forceful personality that sometimes aggravated others.

Those of us who were privileged to be in his company at Huntingdon College on Tuesday night, in the person of Birmingham actor Alan Gardner, were given a lot more than a history lesson. We were in the presence of a man whose sensibilities to the world around him in the early 20th Century still resonate today.

The two act play, written by Jerome Alden and directed by Alan Litsey, is called "Bully! An Adventure with Teddy Roosevelt" -- and what a "bully" adventure it is. -- For two hours, Mr. Gardner riveted the audience with an impressive catalogue of facts and historical detail delivered at an exhausting pace and with such verve and passion for his subject that simultaneously provoked analysis of the country and the world's condition 100 years later.

By the age of 42, Roosevelt had done more in his life than most can claim to have done by the time they reach old age. -- In 1912, having served two terms as President, he is urged by some to run for another term, and from his Summer White House at Sagamore Hill in Oyster Bay, Long Island, he discloses to the audience the admiration he had for his father, his love of family, the devastation he experienced at the loss of his first wife and his mother on the same day, and the numerous experiences that shaped his long-term philosophy -- a joy of living, a sense of purpose, admiration for strength of mind-body-and-character, a patriotism that becomes infectious, and a suitable realistic understanding that practicality governs most business, and an insightful message that "any politician who doesn't like publicity is a dead politician".

In Act II, though he loses the Republican candidacy to Taft, he doesn't go down without a fight. Taft's political machine was too strong, despite Roosevelt's popularity in the polls. -- We can see via Mr. Gardner's uncanny personification of T. R. that it is still common that men and women of character, those with courage, honesty, and common sense and who are committed to service, are overcome by the ruthlessness and selfishness of the politically powerful...yet they are never defeated.

Gardner lavishes upon us a tour-de-force tribute performance that too few Montgomerians shared. It deserves a longer run. Regardless of our own political convictions, the man on stage on Tuesday was admirable in so many ways: both in the persona of Theodore Roosevelt, and the actor, Alan Gardner.