Both Your Houses

By Maxwell Andersonremy bumppo theatre

Directed by James Bohnen

Produced by Remy Bumppo

At the Greenhouse Theatre, Chicago

Powerful cautionary tale of how Congress works still resonates today

Founding artistic director of Remy Bumppo, James Bohnen, returns to direct a political satire  by Maxwell Anderson, his 1933 Pulitzer Prize winning drama, Both Your Houses. This is a fine ensemble work that features naturalistic dialogue from a cast that easily captures the essence of  powerful United States Congressman as they wheel-and-deal to get an appropriations bill through congress in the late days of the Hoover Presidency, as the Great Depreciation devastates America.

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When an idealistic freshman Congressman, Alan McClean (Chris Amos) is appointed to the Appropriations Committee, he is appalled at all the quid pro quo and self-serving manipulations on a bill needed to finish a dam in McClean’s home state. The newbie congressman decides to fight wasteful government spending even if it means going against the needs of his constituency. While he is impressed by Chairman Simeon Gray (the statesman-like Peter A. Davis) and the glib veteran Congressman Sol Fitzmaurice (David Darlow), McClean simply can’t agree to all the deal-making.  The built-in corruption sickens him. With help from the cynical secretary Bus Nilson (Linda Gillum), McClean fights the passage by the committee. But his plan backfires when he uses the strategy of overloading the bill with so much unnecessary items that it couldn’t possibly be passed.

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The legislative battles depicted here consist of adding and subtracting pork barrel items as both sides do horse-trading to garner the votes needed to get the committee to move the bill out of committee to a vote on the floor of the House. Playwright Anderson realistically demonstrates the self-serving legislature’s antics. He dramatizes the workings of a congressional committee, their power, and their potential for abuse. He also  shows the limits of Presidential power that still haunts Obama today as the Congress through committees can cripple a presidential agenda.

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In the RemyBumppo production, the outstanding cast makes the manipulations come alive as the dynamics of  government are presented as personal and self-serving. Chris Amos was terrific as the idealistic freshman, while David Darlow was amazing with his subtle satire and his witty vague performance of the willy old-time Congressman.   Peter A. Davis effectively plays the conflicted yet honorable committee chairman who is trying to both survive and do the right thing.

This drama is amazingly relevant today as pork barrel attachments still clog essential appropriations bills. Both Your Houses sure makes a case for the line item veto power that presidents covet.

As theatre, Both Your Houses is an engrossing, fabulously acted and directed play that features a committed ensemble who understand Anderson’s theme as they yield all the sarcasm and satire as well as biting dark humor that humanizes the foibles of these power mongers. Could a present day Congressional Committee be much different than the one shown at the Greenhouse Theatre? I doubt it.

Highly Recommended

Tom Williams

Date Reviewed: October 6, 2014

Jeff Recommended

For more info checkout the Both Your Houses page at theatreinchicago.com

At the Greenhouse Theatre, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, IL, call 773-404-7336, www.remybumppo.org, tickets $42.50 – $52.50,  Thursdays thru Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Wed. Oct 15 & Nov 5 at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 2:30 pm, running time is 2 hours, 10 minutes with intermission, through November 9, 2014