Presidential Profiles: Stories of America’s Leaders

As the election draws closer, it’s the perfect time to delve into the intricate stories of America’s leaders. From presidents to first ladies, from Lincoln to Nixon, these narratives offer diverse perspectives on the nation’s highest office.

Join us in celebrating the rich tapestry of American governance and the remarkable stories of its leaders.

46 Plays For 46 Presidents by Karen Weinberg, Chloe Johnston, Genevra Gallo-Bayiates, Sean Benjamin, Andy Bayiates

46 Plays for 46 Presidents is exactly what it sounds like, but every turn it takes is entirely unexpected. In each of these espresso shots of American history, a member of the flexible ensemble dons the star-spangled coat of the presidency and the group explores a surprising aspect of that administration. The short plays run on a spectrum from elections to impeachments, from personal stories to political battles, and from funny to tragic. Whether it’s a comedy roast of Thomas Jefferson, a nuanced monologue about social upheaval during the Johnson administration, or a mini-musical about George Bush Sr., you’re never going to know what’s coming next. A unique, thought-provoking, and wildly entertaining evening of theatre.

46 Plays for America’s First Ladies by Genevra Gallo-Bayiates, Chloe Johnston, Andy Bayiates, Bilal Dardai, Sharon Greene

Photo by Alex Wohlheuter, 2022 Theatre Pro Rata Production

46 Plays for America’s First Ladies leaps from comic to tragic as it surveys the lives of the women who have served (and avoided serving) as First Lady, from Martha Washington to Jill Biden. A biographical, meta-theatrical, genre-bending ride through race, gender, and everything else your history teacher never taught you about the founding of America.

A Few Stout Individuals by John Guare

A wonderfully screwy comedy-drama that figures Ulysses S. Grant in the throes of writing his memoirs while battling throat cancer, crushing debt, the labyrinth of his memories and the haunting tragedy of the battle of Cold Harbor, all the while surrounded by a cast of fantastical characters, including the Emperor and Empress of Japan, the opera star Adelina Patti and Mark Twain.

Abe Lincoln and Uncle Tom in the White House by Carlyle Brown

Alone in the Executive Office, President Abraham Lincoln is struggling with signing the Emancipation Proclamation when he is mysteriously visited by Uncle Tom, the fictional character in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s abolitionist novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly. These two iconic characters from life and literature—one real, the other fiction—attempt to understand each other across a chasm of race in the midst of the Civil War. Throughout one late night and into the dawning day, they find themselves crossing over into each other’s world in a tale of suffering, self-discovery, and redemption.

Abe Lincoln in Illinois by Robert E. Sherwood

Winner of the 1939 Pulitzer Prize for Drama

Photo by David Dashiell, 2024 Berkshire Theatre Group production

The play shows in a series of scenes the critical years of Lincoln’s early manhood up to the moment of his election as president. We see the backwoodsman, a failure at shopkeeping, but a great favorite with friends and neighbors, slowly groping forward through the troubled years in Springfield, at last beginning to realize the great destiny before him.

American Primitive (or John and Abigail), The words of John and Abigail Adams put into sequence for the theatre with addenda in rhyme by William Gibson

As the words drawn from their letters, diaries and books reveal, John and Abigail Adams were singular people: proud, loving, articulate and filled with the dedication and spirit required to share in the forging of a nation. Through their words, with rhymed addenda spoken and acted by the company, the stuff of their lives—and the drama of the Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress and the Declaration of Independence—are made eloquently and vividly real on the stage. Blending history and humanity into a vital theatre piece, the play offers a lesson for our time, and all time, and a memorable experience to be shared and not soon forgotten.

All the Way by Robert Schenkkan

Winner of the 2014 Tony Award® for Best Play

Photo by Sara Krulwich, 2014 Broadway production

An assassin’s bullet catapults Lyndon Baines Johnson into the presidency. A Shakespearean figure of towering ambition and appetite, this charismatic, conflicted Texan hurls himself into the passage of the Civil Rights Act—a tinderbox issue emblematic of a divided America—even as he campaigns for re-election in his own right, and the recognition he so desperately wants. All the Way is a searing, enthralling exploration of the morality of power. It’s not personal, it’s just politics.

Confidence (and the Speech) by Susan Lambert Hatem

On July 4, 1979, President Carter canceled an important energy policy speech he was scheduled to give the next day and disappeared to Camp David. Ten days later, he emerged from his impromptu domestic summit and gave a new speech, the Crisis of Confidence speech, which became known as the “malaise” speech. The speech garnered overwhelmingly positive responses at first and many now view the speech as unprecedented, farsighted and insightful. Others think it may have ultimately cost him the White House. Forty years later, college professor Cynthia Cooper is approached by a stranger, a young man, and asked to recall her time with the Carter Administration during the days before the now infamous Crisis of Confidence speech. If she is going to tell her story of that time—the story told from her perspective—she is going to play the president. And the young man who wants to know her story? Well, he is going to play her. This unique cross-gender experience explores the confidence of a president, a nation in chaos, and women in politics.

Democracy by Romulus Linney

In the presidential society of Washington in the spring of 1875, two beautiful American women are courted by two dashing American men. Madelaine Lee, a wealthy widow from New York, and Esther Dudley, an agnostic photographer from Washington, are pursued by Silas Raitcliffe, Senator from Illinois and candidate for the presidency, and by the Reverend Stephen Hazard, a handsome Episcopal priest whose spellbinding oratory packs his church. Around them move Baron Jacobi, the cynical Bulgarian Ambassador; Esther’s unmarried Aunt Lydia, who played at the feet of George Washington when she was a child; Mrs. Essy Barker, an outrageous female lobbyist; and the President and his wife, the world-famous Grants themselves, innocent, blundering and touching. The two women must decide whether to marry the two men, knowing they will also marry what their men believe, about America, about religion, about final truth and untruth, about success and reality. Their courageous decisions, in two highly charged scenes, are the same; they will not marry men they may or may not love, but whose fundamental beliefs they cannot share. Henry Adams’ comic vision of American democracy is scathing, passionate, funny, and in the deepest and best sense, loyal to his country.

First Lady Suite by Michael John LaChiusa

Produced to wide acclaim by the New York Shakespeare Festival’s Joseph Papp Public Theatre, these four chamber pieces, ranging from riotously funny to hauntingly lyrical, focus on celebrated first ladies and the people surrounding them. Each one-act musical can be licensed separately.

Frost/Nixon by Peter Morgan

Photo by Sara Krulwich, 2007 Broadway production

British talk-show host David Frost has become a lowbrow laughingstock. Richard M. Nixon has just resigned the United States presidency in total disgrace over Vietnam and the Watergate scandal. Determined to resurrect his career, Frost risks everything on a series of in-depth interviews in order to extract an apology from Nixon. The cagey Nixon, however, is equally bent on redeeming himself in his nation’s eyes. In the television age, image is king, and both men are desperate to out-talk and upstage each other as the cameras roll. The result is the interview that sealed a president’s legacy.

The Great Society by Robert Schenkkan

Photo by Evan Zimmerman, 2019 Broadway production

The minute you gain power, you start to lose it. In his second term of office, LBJ struggles to fight a war on poverty as the war in Vietnam spins out of control. Besieged by opponents, Johnson marshals all his political wiles to try to pass some of the most important social programs in U.S. history. THE GREAT SOCIETY depicts the larger-than-life politician’s tragic fall from grace, as his accomplishments—the passage of hundreds of bills to enact reform in civil and voting rights, poverty, and education—are overshadowed by the bitter failure of the Vietnam War. The Great Society is complemented by its companion piece, the Tony Award®-winning All the Way, depicting LBJ’s first term in office.

Hillary and Clinton by Lucas Hnath

Photo by Celeste Sloman, 2019 Broadway production

In an alternate universe light-years away from our own is a planet called Earth. It looks a lot like our Earth, except it’s slightly different. And living on this other Earth is a woman named Hillary. Hillary is trying to become the president of a country called the United States of America. It’s 2008 and she’s campaigning in a state called New Hampshire. She’s not doing very well in the polls. She needs more money to keep the campaign going, so she calls her husband for help. He offers her a deal, a tough deal, but when she gets his help, she gets more than she bargained for. You may think you know where this story is going, but you don’t. After all, the play takes place in an alternate universe where anything can happen.

Jimmy Carter was a Democrat by Rinne Groff

Air. Traffic. Control. Welcome to the world of Samuel B. Shostakovitz. Stuck in his apartment in Flushing, Queens, Sammy can’t help but ponder the summer of 1980: Jimmy Carter flounders in the White House, hostages rot in Tehran, America’s air traffic controllers prepare to make the mistake of their lives, and Emily, a hot young labor organizer, can’t decide who not to sleep with. A comedy with one song.

JQA by Aaron Posner

2019 Arena Stage production

Complicated, passionate, and difficult, John Quincy Adams was a brilliant diplomat, ineffectual one-term president, and congressman known for his eloquence, arrogance, and integrity. This unique, highly theatrical play imagines key confrontations between JQA and some of America’s most dynamic figures: George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, his own father, John Adams, and more. At once provocative, haunting, and hilarious, this power play challenges the way we think of our country, our government, and ourselves.

The Last of Mrs Lincoln by James Prideaux

Impulsive, imperious and foolish in money matters, Mary Todd Lincoln was beset by a series of unhappy events in the years following her husband’s tragic assassination. Disturbed by still persistent rumors that she, as a Southerner, had hampered the Union cause; frustrated in her attempts to obtain a pension from Congress; and deeply grieved by the untimely death of her beloved son Tad; she was, for a brief time, committed to a mental institution by her sole surviving son, Robert. But, as the play so eloquently makes clear, Mary Lincoln was also a woman of great courage and compassion, who grew in stature as she came to accept the vicissitudes of her life—and her ultimate reconciliation with her remaining son is a moment of deep emotion and human understanding. Told through a sequence of varied and theatrically brilliant scenes, the play is both a true and touching portrait of a remarkable and much maligned woman, and an ironic statement on the misconstructions which history so often imposes on the truth.

Nixon’s Nixon by Russell Lees

It is the night before President Nixon is to announce his resignation, and he has summoned Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to the Lincoln Sitting Room. Kissinger arrives, expecting to find his President preparing to resign. But Nixon is in the process of wrestling with that very decision. Unstable, nostalgic, garrulous and paranoid, Nixon leads his Secretary of State on a journey through the high moments of his administration and Nixon’s past. The journey borders on the surreal as Nixon pressures Kissinger into reenacting crucial scenes: Kissinger plays Nixon, Nixon plays Brezhnev, Kissinger plays Kennedy and Mao—the scenarios become dizzying. Meanwhile, Kissinger is subtly working to convince Nixon to step down so that he can pursue his geopolitical goals—and his own quest for historical glory—unencumbered by a weakened President. Nixon, however, can’t face the lonely aftermath of such a decision; he envisions himself “wandering some hellish golf course, waiting to die.” As the evening and the drinking progress the two concoct a plan to provoke an international crisis that would allow Nixon to leave office a hero. Kissinger muses, “Sometimes I stare in the mirror. What’s happening behind those eyes? I’m astonished. Mystified.” Then adds, “I like it.” Nixon confides he no longer stares in the mirror, although he did on the way up. He not only stared, he talked to himself. “You sly dog,’ I’d say. And we’d share a secret smile. But then I fell. I fell like Satan tossed from heaven.”

Reagan in Hell by Russell Lees

Clark, the demon in charge of the Alzheimer’s division of hell, is about to get a new resident: none other than Ronald Reagan. And the former president has got a lot of torture to endure, though luckily for him, the Alzheimer’s will keep him from remembering any of it. A play about the decisions we make and the consequences that “can always — always get worse.”

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