Reagan: Dementia in Absentia--An Unauthorized Tribute | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Reagan: Dementia in Absentia--An Unauthorized Tribute 

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Prop Theatre, at the Organic Theater Company Greenhouse, Lab Theater.

As the patriotic optimism of the 80s unravels into the paranoid schisms of the 90s, a visit with ever-upbeat Ronald Reagan might seem a breath of fresh air--until you remember that his divisive, budget-busting economic policies and pandering to the extremist right have a lot to do with the mess we're in now. In Richard Henzel's amusing, accurate portrayal, the ex-president remains unfazed by any reality except the one he's constructed in his head. Rambling through an amalgam of half-truths, fantasies, and lies, Henzel's Reagan talks about his Illinois boyhood, his early sportscasting career (even then he made things up if reality didn't suit him), his incredibly varied military career, from riding alongside Custer to liberating the Nazi death camps (who cares if it was all on-screen?), his entry into politics as a carefully prepped speech maker, and his recent reconciliation with rebel daughter Patti. Interspersed among the anecdotes are a few musical numbers, featuring a two-man chorus of surly Secret Service guys.

Henzel's performance is awfully good--from some angles he looks exactly like the real thing, and he almost always avoids cheap-shot caricature. But the script, written by Henzel and director Scott Vehill, is rambling, too long, and uncertain of purpose: it's neither pointed enough to be satire nor probing enough to be an effective character study. The best part of the evening comes at the end, when Henzel ad-libs in response to audience questions. The rest of the show needs a little trimming and a lot of sharpening to be the vehicle for Henzel's gifted impersonation that it should be.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jim Alexander Newberry.

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