Theatre Pro Rata presents '44 Plays for 44 Presidents'

David Beukema
David Beukema
Photo by Charlie Gorrill

It's an election year, which means the local theater scene is planning lots of political work aimed at revving up voters, poking fun at the election process, and reflecting on the issues that our society faces today. Opening this week is a production by Theatre Pro Rata called 44 Plays for 44 Presidents, a work made up of very short scenes dedicated to each of our nation's leaders throughout history.

Company member Ben Tallen says that Pro Rata read the script during their play reading series. "It was pretty clear this would be a Pro Rata script," he says. It's funny with serious moments, too, and "deals with a lot of interesting issues about our history, and about how important our specific duty to vote is." 

David Beukema, Adam Qualls, Heather Meyer, Kelsey Cramer and Grant Henderson
David Beukema, Adam Qualls, Heather Meyer, Kelsey Cramer and Grant Henderson
Photo by Charlie Gorrill

One thing the company really liked about the play is that it illustrates how history does repeat itself. The scandals, dirty tricks, and various shenanigans haven't changed all that much over the years. "You see the same stuff again and again," says Tallen. 

Ultimately, 44 Plays for 44 Presidents is a hopeful show: At least things aren't getting worse. 

The play originated from the Neo Futurists, a company famous for its production of Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind, the longest running show in Chicago. First produced in 2002, (it was originally titled 43 Plays for 43 Presidents) the piece has gone on to be performed around the country.

Like Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind, each of the plays are about two minutes long, and contain a single idea within them. "It's really important and difficult to get that one clear idea across really quickly," Tallen says.

Five actors -- David Beukema, Kelsey Cramer, Grant Henderson, Heather Meyer, and Adam Qualls -- play multiple roles and whoever is playing president in a scene wears a star-spangled coat designed by Mandi Johnson, who is something of a history buff herself. "Mandy is really excited about building this coat," Tallen says. "I saw it in construction, and it's pretty spectacular." The rest of the costumes are a mix of period looks, but still minimal because the actors have to change so quickly. 

Kelsey Cramer and David Beukema
Kelsey Cramer and David Beukema
Photo by Charlie Gorrill

The acting style also is a mix, and rather playful. "We're not trying to be ultra realistic," says Tallen. There are musicals within the play, as well as moments like Ben Franklin roasting Thomas Jefferson as if he were a Jewish comedian from the Catskills. "Sometimes it's not even remotely trying to be serious, and sometimes it's more straight-laced," he says. 

The play opens on June 29, despite a tragedy that has struck the company. Carin Bratlie, the show's director, found out earlier this month that her father's plane was missing. He has still not been found. "We've all taken up the slack," Tallen says. Bratlie has stepped down from the day-to-day tasks of the company, and took a few days off from rehearsal. "The ensemble works so well together," he says, and they were able to keep going without her because they knew the direction the show was going. 

In addition to the performance, the production includes a "Presidential Art Gallery," which consists of 44 works of art the company commissioned for each of the presidents. Artists range from professionals to friends of the company. 

Heather Mayer, David Beukema, Adam Qualls, Grant Henderson and Kelsey Cramer
Heather Mayer, David Beukema, Adam Qualls, Grant Henderson and Kelsey Cramer
Photo by Charlie Gorrill

Pro Rata will also be a part of Plays for Presidents, a festival that includes 44 separate productions of 44 Plays for 44 Presidents across the country in the months leading up to the 2012 Presidential Election. The festival will include an online composite video production, made up of scenes from the different theaters. Theatre Pro Rata will also perform an election-night edition of the show as part of the festival. 
7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays from June 29 through July 14 (plus Wednesday, July 4)
Calvary Lutheran Church Fellowship Hall
3901 Chicago Ave. S., Minneapolis
On July 4, there will be a pay-what-you can ticket price and a fireworks field trip 

Use Current Location

Related Location

Calvary Lutheran Church

3901 Chicago Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN 55407


Sponsor Content


All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >