‘BOTH YOUR HOUSES’ HIGHLY RECOMMENDED When: Through Nov. 9 Where: Remy Bumppo Theatre at The Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Tickets: $42.50-$52.50 Info: (773) 404-7336; http://www.remybumppo.org Run time: 2 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission
The timing could not be better. Nor could the play. Just as the country’s political machines launch into high gear in preparation for the 2014 midterm elections, Remy Bumppo Theatre is presenting “Both Your Houses,” Maxwell Anderson’s 1933 Pulitzer Prize-winning satire about how Congress, and all aspects of American politics and business, really operate.
With its razor-sharp observations about budgets and voting blocs, “men’s club” arrogance and jail term jitters, regional interests and (above all) self-interest, this rarely revived gem (a play I’ve never seen before, or even heard about being produced), strikes directly into the heart of today’s electorate and their mix of cynicism, outrage, disgust and resignation. And the laughter of recognition it generates in the audience is even more delicious than the applause earned by director James Bohnen and his large, impeccably chosen cast.
It is the Depression — the Dust Bowl era version, though the references to vacant storefronts and bankrupt banks, and the arguments about whether economic stimulus is better than austerity, certainly strike a familiar chord. As the story begins, the members of the House Appropriations Committee are putting the finishing touches on a budget bill that contains more pork than any sausage, though not nearly enough for some.
The problem is, there is a new boy in town — the aptly named Alan McClean (Chris Amos, who could easily pass for a young Mitt Romney, is ideal). A young and very green Nevada schoolteacher, who campaigned in favor of a dam project for farmers, won election handily, and has now arrived in Washington, D.C. as an idealistic maverick determined to shake up the status quo, he will even vote against his own best interests to keep the budget in line. And he has no compunction about irritating all his deeply entrenched fellow Congressmen, including committee chairman Simeon Gray (Peter A. Davis), whose devoted daughter and office manager, Marjorie (Eliza Stoughton), he fancies.
As the horse-trading moves into overdrive, the swing votes and independents dance and dodge, the boondoggle add-ons are defended and ridiculed, and the likelihood of a presidential veto of a bloated budget is debated, McClean watches,and is appalled by the skullduggery of it all. He devises a plan he believes will upend the whole corrupt enterprise, but it backfires, and he is subjected to a very clear lesson in real politik, with Congressman Solomon “Sol” Fitzmaurice (David Darlow, playing at the very top of his excellent game) serving as mentor/philosopher/agitator.
Bohnen, Remy Bumppo’s founding artistic director (whose 2006 production of “The Best Man,” another classic political play, also was right on the money), has returned to the company he founded in top form. The ensemble (working on designer Yu Shibagaki’s handsome set) is predominantly male, of course (Brian Parry, Larry Baldacci, Paul Tinsley, Jesse Dornan, Peter Eli Johnson, James Houton, Scott Egleston, Noah Simon), with the actors very deftly playing a variety of regional types. Linda Gillum is a brainy, disgruntled secretary who knows just how things work, and Joanna Riopelle is the sole Congresswoman in the room, whose advocacy of women’s rights is condescendingly dismissed.
Other than the absence of any mention of “social media” this play easily could have been written yesterday. Happily it is getting a ripe-roaring new place in the spotlight today. And it definitely has won my vote.