Play foreshadowed presidential election

Peter Kreitner, left, and Rich Wiley in “It Can’t Happen Here.” (Courtesy Photo)

Peter Kreitner, left, and Rich Wiley in “It Can’t Happen Here.” (Courtesy Photo)

Long before the unexpected came to pass with the election of a populist billionaire television personality, Sinclair Lewis foreshadowed the election of Donald Trump in his 1935 novel, “It Can’t Happen Here.” The author wrote the dystopian political fantasy to imagine how American democracy might be dismantled and be replaced by fascism.

While his references were based on the rhetoric and conditions that brought Hitler to power, strong parallels between the book and Trump’s presidential campaign did not go unnoticed in 2016 —the book sold out online. It also caught the attention of Drama Dock Director Chaim Rosemarin.

“I had read the book years ago in the 1960s,” he said. “As soon as Trump started campaigning, it came back to me — this is right out of the book. With references to Hitler and Stalin, and with the rise of Huey Long who in the end never became a national threat, Lewis was worried about that infection coming to America. But Roosevelt kept the country together. Now we have a different version of Huey Long.”

Chaim plans to bring Lewis’ story and its attendant present-day similarities to Vashon in a staged reading of “It Can’t Happen Here” at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 16, at the Vashon High School theater.

Adapted from the novel by Tony Taccone and Bennett S. Cohen of the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, the play premiered in September of 2016, but is set in 1936. The satirical and cautionary tale is about the improbable presidential election of a fictional senator, Buzz Windrip, who energizes his populist base by blaming immigrants, Jews, welfare recipients and the liberal press as the cause of America’s decline, while making empty promises and embellishing them all with a strong dose of bombast.

“We all got chill-bumps as it was so apropos for today,” Trudy said about why they chose the play. “Chaim got some actors together last October to read the script and see how it felt. All the actors said we have to do it.”

While the script calls for 36 actors, the staged reading will have about 18, including three teens, so many actors will read double parts. Peter Kreitner will read the role of Windrip, and Rich Wiley will read the part of the other main character, Doremus Jessup, a liberal, small-town Vermont newspaper editor, or as Chaim described him, “a flinty, New England type.”

“It will be a staged reading, but because we have a huge crowd, the actors will be on the side, and whoever is reading will step forward, holding the script so there will be some physical movement to help act (the play) out,” Chaim said.

“There will be lights and music,” Trudy added.

The reading will be the second performance, after “The Diary of Anne Frank” staged last year, by Resistance Productions, which was created after President Trump’s election by Chaim and Trudy Rosemarin and Elise Morill. The nonprofit’s mission is to “use our theatrical skills to promote a greater awareness of how precious and fragile this nation’s democratic freedom and constitutional rights really are at this time in our history. Our productions are used to fund worthy causes.”

All proceeds from “It Can’t Happen Here” will be donated to the Vashon Havurah “for much needed repairs to their aging building.” Tickets are a suggested $10 donation at the door.

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