Pacifica Spindrift’s “It Can’t Happen Here”—maybe it can. . . .
This play comes with its own warning, ever more relevant as the 2018 election cycle comes to a close. A self-important, small-minded demagogue has become president; among his imaginary enemies at the gates and within them, members of the opposing party, and the institution of the free press.
One has only to read the headline news to get a sense of how complacent we might be to think “It can’t happen here.”
Pacifica Spindrift brings Sinclair Lewis’s 1936 novel “It Can’t Happen Here” to the stage in the Taccone and Cohen theatrical adaptation. The story centers around an outspoken newspaper editor who pulls no punches in his condemnation of the downward spiral of American life under the new president Buzz Windrup (Benjamin E. Latham), under whose reign American liberties are steadily eroded. Imprisonment and summary execution become commonplace in the encroaching nightmare of martial law, touching deeply into the lives the stalwart editor Doremus Jessup (Louis Schilling) and his extended family. The second half opens with a blistering argument between father and son Phillip Jessup (William Rhea), each adhering to his own firmly held belief system that cannot admit another.
For some, the wiser course seems to be to give in to the demands of the new administration, sacrificing independence and self-respect for a life less fraught with the peril of betrayal or sudden death. But Jessup never gives up completely, and in the end the resistance rises again to take back the country and the American ideals we hope live on.
The script gathers strength from a Greek chorus chanting the frightful things that can happen to each of us as individuals within this pitched battle between justice and political power, and allows the characters to step outside their roles to comment on this contest.
Dutch Fritz’s minimalist set design, complemented by Carson Duper’s lighting design, gives all focus to the actors and the ideas with an absolute minimum of fuss. Director Debi Durst brought it all together in a wonderfully compelling and thought-provoking piece of timely theater.
Special notice to Jessup offspring Dana Reynolds as outspoken daughter Sissy Jessup, Jordana Wolf as the sad and sober daughter Mary Jessup Greenhill, and William Rhea as son Phillip Jessup. These all make the role of patriarch Doremus Jessup that much more compelling.
Through November 4, Fridays Saturdays, and Sundays
Spindrift Theater: 1050 Crespi Drive, Pacifica, CA 94044
Contact: 650.359.8002 firstname.lastname@example.org
Box office: Online tickets
Review by David Hirzel