last night pat and i went to beckett theatre and caught the one man show, "the bully pulpit: quality time with teddy roosevelt." in the interest of full disclosure, i'll mention at the outset teddy roosevelt is, by far, my favorite president. second, even though i'd wanted to see this production for months, thanks to procrastination on my part, this is the final week of performances (the show ends its run sunday)!
the bully pulpit was written and is performed by michael o. smith, a man with an uncanny (if eerie) resemblence to teddy roosevelt. while this is the first new york city appearance, he has toured around the county with the production since 2004. the evening unfolds in roosevelt's study at sagamore hill, his sprawling home in oyster bay, long island. the occasion is his 60th birthday in 1918 - the year before his death - and he leads the audience on a wide ranging tour of the highs and lows of his life.
the story line was intimately familiar to me. over the last 20 years or so i've read just about every book on teddy roosevelt published. in fact, my favorite biographies are edmund morris' two volumes (so far - as we await his third volume, the post-presidency years): "the rise of theodore roosevelt," and "theodore rex." as an aside, while i respect morris' skill as a writer and biographer, he is also the author of what i consider the worst book of all time, "dutch: a memoir of ronald reagan."
the performance, with a short 10 minute intermission, was almost two hours - and the time literally flew by. from his initial appearance, where smith shook hands with audience members as he made his way down to the stage, until his final salute farewell, he kept the audience engaged. throughout the show he shouted out questions, to which the audience shouted back replies. each successful answer was met with a gleeful shout, "give the lady (or gentleman) a silver dollar!" - until he admitted having exhausted his supply of silver dollars.
except for his remembrances of alice (his first wife), his poor treatment of their daughter (also named alice), and the death on his youngest son (quentin) in world war one, smith's performance was consistently upbeat. act one covered his life up to the assassination on president mckinley. following the intermission, act two picked up with start of his presidency. he spoke of his years in the white house (which he took credit for naming) in terms of family life - playing with his young sons, the antics of his oldest daughter alice, and how he entertained the ambassadors of france and germany - as in when they crossed a freezing potomac river in their birthday suits (while the french ambassador retained only his gloves)!
there was the brief coverage of his post-white house adventures (both the political, as a third party candidate, and the literal, on safari in africa and exploring the amazon). the performance ended after he received the telegram informing him of quentin's death. despite the sad note at the end, it was an otherwise upbeat finish.
after the new york run concludes, i hope smith has plans to stage "the bully pulpit" again. it is certainly worth experiencing history come to life - so to speak.
next up: another one-man show, we plan to see laurence fishburne in thurgood!
update: check out my book review of "lion in the white house: a life of theodore roosevelt," by aida d. donald.