Fake news, alternative facts, lies and propaganda. These political practices may be exacerbated by today’s social media, but they’re nothing new according to Campaigns, Inc. from TimeLine Theatre Company.
The world premiere play offers a comical view of the country’s first political consulting firm founded by Leone Baxter and Clem Whitaker in 1934. Like the screwball comedies of the time — It Happened One Night (1934) starring Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable; My Man Godfrey (1936) starring Carole Lombard and William Powell; and The Awful Truth (1937) starring Irene Dunne and Cary Grant — the live production starring Tyler Meredith and Yuriy Sardarov uses fast-paced dialogue and quick wit to convey its story.
In this case, novelist Upton Sinclair (Anish Jethmalani) is campaigning to become the first Democratic governor of California against Republican nominee Frank Merriam (Terry Hamilton). As the candidates seek endorsements from celebrities such as cinematic icon Charlie Chaplin (Dave Honigman) and President Franklin D. Roosevelt (David Parkes), Baxter and Whitaker collaborate on a star-studded smear campaign that involves Eleanor Roosevelt/Mary Pickford (Jacqueline Grandt) and George Hatfield (Mark Ulrich).
“Campaigns, Inc. is the story of America, or really, it’s the story of how screwed up our political system is,” admits the play’s director Nick Bowling. “The true story of Baxter and Whitaker is the center of the play, but it is also about the right and left of America — the dirty dealings of politics that pushes those two groups further and further from each other. It’s about the power of winning and what people will do to achieve that.”
Written by company member Will Allan, the work is a result of TimeLine’s Playwrights Collective, a program launched in 2013 to support Chicago-based playwrights in residence who can create plays inspired by history which connect to the current social and political issues of today.
“I think my favorite response to this play is ‘wait … is that real?’ And while I have taken some dramatic liberties, a lot of it is very real,” says Allan. “I also want people to laugh. The current political climate is so volatile that I wanted a play about politics that is fun to watch.
“Baxter and Whitaker are relatively unknown and they changed the game of politics forever, especially Leone Baxter,” continues Allan. “A woman being president of a company and accomplishing what she did in the 1930s, it is truly remarkable.”
The production includes Associate Director Alka Nayyar, Costume Designer Sally Dolembo, Dialect Director Sammi Grant, Dramaturg Maren Robinson, Lighting Designer Jared Gooding, Projections Designer Anthony Churchill, Scenic Designer Sydney Lynne, Sound Designers Andrew Hansen and Forrest Gregor, Stage Manager Miranda Anderson, and Wig/Hair Designers Katie Cordts and Megan Pirtle.
Campaigns, Inc. performs through Sep. 25. For tickets and more information, visit timelinetheatre.com or call (773) 281-8463.