Chicago Theater Review: THE PRESIDENT (Oracle)

Post image for Chicago Theater Review: THE PRESIDENT (Oracle)

by Lawrence Bommer on April 19, 2014

in Theater-Chicago


Scene from THE PRESIDENT at Oracle Theatre.Hungarian playwright Ferenc Molnár is much better known for the spindrift, gossamer pleasures of his Liliom (which inspired Carousel) and The Good Fairy (which gave us Make a Wish), musicals drawn from quicksilver dramas of artful delicacy and effortless charm. Written in the dangerous year of 1929, Molnár’s The President (originally entitled One, Two, Three) is stronger satire, a one-act prank that sardonically depicts how easy it is to turn a Communist into a CEO. Happily, it’s just as comical as cynical.

Scene from THE PRESIDENT at Oracle Theatre.His first attempt at humor, Max Truax’ staging for public-access Oracle Theatre (where tickets are free) delivers a delightful, 80-minute screwball comedy. Ripe with machine-gun comic patter and wickedly wrought spoofs of corporate corruption and flunky servitude, Molnár’s clever one-act—adapted by Morwyn Brebner–centers on a desperate bet that an industrial honcho just manages to pull off in a mere 60 minutes.

Scene from THE PRESIDENT at Oracle Theatre.A kind of Pygmalion to his blue-collar Galatea, Norrison (John Arthur Lewis) is a New York mogul in imminent trouble: His industrial empire could crumble if the daughter of his principal Iowa backer marries injudiciously—and Norrison’s ward Lydia has been smitten with Tony Foot (Travis Delgado), a taxi driving, 35-year-old socialist. Lydia refuses to give him up—and, confused but compliant, Tony will do anything for love. In this case that means submitting to Norrison’s every barking command as, with only an hour to spare before his company’s benefactor arrives, he transforms an obscure peon of the proletariat into a captain of industry.

Scene from THE PRESIDENT at Oracle Theatre.What follows is a pell-mell blend of Trading Places and How The Other Half Lives : Bossing around a board of directors, numerous secretaries, store clerks, and nameless gofers, Norrison grooms Tony for glory: He makes the cabby resign from the Communist Party, dresses him like social lion, changes his name to the aristocratic “Anton Von Schottenburg,” secures for him and his adoring Lydia (simpering Michelle M. Oliver) a suite at Gotham’s finest hotel and a chalet in St. Moritz, and induces the Board of Directors to fire the current chairman in favor of Tony, now given an ambassadorship to an obscure South American principality. Despite the unexpected heartbreak of being betrayed by his mistress Begonia, Norrison hews true to his mantra “Life goes on” and creates an automobile tyro as instantaneously as the sailor Ralph replaces his captain Corcoran in the finale of H.M.S. Pinafore.

Above all, Norrison teaches Tony how to talk blandly in order to inspire respect, as trenchant as this spoof of artificial respectability ever gets. It’s almost a pity that Scene from THE PRESIDENT at Oracle Theatre.Tony (Delgado portraying a good-hearted doofus with no convictions worth changing) puts up so little resistance to his rags-to-riches metamorphosis; the assumption being that money can buy anything.

But, this too-easy transformation notwithstanding, the thrill here is to watch Lewis’ president in full throttle, his voice achieving the sterile innocuousness of Christian Bayle’s American psycho as he swivels around in the show’s one prop—a leather-backed armchair that wields as much authority as anyone on stage.

Shaped by Truax into convincing caricatures, the 12-member ensemble falls into perfect place in this feeding frenzy of falsity. In the end, Norrison presents Molnár’s moral for his parable of a “fake it till you make it” imposture: “People should be ashamed…” Indeed. Appearance is all.

Scene from THE PRESIDENT at Oracle by Joe Mazza –

The President
Oracle Theatre
3809 N Broadway at Grace St
Friday, Saturday and Monday at 8 pm
Sundays at 7 pm
scheduled to end on May 31, 2014
for tickets, call 252-220-0269
or visit
for more info, visit

for info on this and other Chicago Theater,

Leave a Comment