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Entries in Waiting for Obama (1)

Monday
Feb212011

Looking Back At: Waiting for Obama: A Night in the Hall of Presidents

By: Lucas Hazlett

In honor of President's Day, The Apiary takes a look back at Caitlin Tegart's one-act play Waiting for Obama: A Night in the Hall of Presidents.

Photo: Ari ScottFirst performed at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in 2009 in the wake of President Obama's inauguration into Disney World's 'Hall of Presidents' attraction, and recently staged as a finalist in the 19th Annual Strawberry One Act Festival, Waiting for Obama is a fascinating exploration and challenge to the often-times hagiographic legacies American presidents are historically assigned.

Set on July 3, 2009 in the Hall of Presidents at Disney, seven animatronic presidents (George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Rutherford B. Hayes, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan) eagerly await the arrival of animatronic Barack Obama and testify why each of them is best suited to stand next to America's first black president.  At first, each president assumes the archetypal mantel onto which they've been historically placed: Washington touts delivering democracy to the new nation, Lincoln boasts about freeing the slaves and Roosevelt champions his New Deal.  A good amount of comedy stems from the fact that Rutherford B. Hayes, an obvious odd-man-out amongst great leaders, lacks much of a leg to stand on. 

It is here where Tegart's writing emerges, for it is after each president states their generic historical sound bite that they begin taking each other to task for their shortcomings and the audience is treated to the nitty-gritty of who these men really were.  Presidents who start on their high horse are ultimately bucked off and thrown to the mud (Kennedy is constantly taken to task for not actually accomplishing much in office despite history's shining depiction of him).  And presidents who start off as assholes, Eisenhower and Reagan, are ultimately portrayed as being the most logical and likable of the group.  Particularly Eisenhower, who despite being played early as the wise-cracking peg-knocking villain of the group, ultimately reminds his fellow presidents (and us!) that he was responsible for holding down the national debt, keeping inflation in check, fighting for balanced budgets and prophetically warning the American people about the growing influence of the military-industrial complex.  While not as easily distilled into a high-concept brand, Eisenhower defends his time in office as being far more dimensional than history's penchant for chocking entire presidencies up to mere freeing of the slaves or being the first. 

Waiting for Obama isn't all sobering lessons from American History 101 though.  Being a comedy, there are a ton of delightful bits that run throughout the piece.  Each of the dramatic beats are punctuated by an ongoing gag where the presidents take their positions in anticipation of tourists entering the hall, only to be disappointed by the revelation that the tourists are merely disgruntled Disney employees sneaking off for a quick screw; opportunities each of them take advantage of for dirty wordplay ("Looks like Mowgli was showing off his bare necessities").  And President Reagan, God bless him, is always apt for comedy, herein making countless references to popular 80s movies in lieu of actual presidential accomplishments.

Waiting for Obama is an entertaining and hilarious show, and its strength lies within its central critique: what does a man really stand for?  Are all of our flaws forgotten and forgiven in exchange for one historically well-perceived course of action?  Are all of our great deeds defiled by one mistake?  As President's Day rolls on, and the saintly talk pervades, it's nice to know that comedians like Tegart are asking the real questions: where does Obama stand?  Well, according to the real Disney World attraction, the answer is center stage, sandwiched between a sitting Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant.

Lucas Hazlett is a comedy geek who improvises with anyone he can.  He can be seen performing at the People's Improv Theater (123 East 24th Street) every Wednesday at 8:00PM as part of Super Free Wednesdays.