Gamut Theatre Group is busy preparing their next mainstage effort, “All the King’s Men” (adapted by Robert Penn Warren, who also wrote the 1946 novel). It is a tonal shift from what has come before in their season, preceded by the windswept fancy of Shakespeare’s “Pericles” and the belly laughs of “Every Christmas Story Ever Told (And Then Some).”
Penn Warren’s tale of Willie Stark, a naive, self-described “hick” who transforms into a powerful political dynamo, a transformation with long-reaching consequences for his constituents and his loved ones, has long been held up as a paradigm of political storytelling.
When given the opportunity to reflect on what makes this story a classic, worthy of producing in 2019, and necessary to the American dialogue, Director Clark Nicholson and the cast of “All the King’s Men” had plenty to say.
Clark Nicholson (Director): “I want Gamut to offer this to the public as a tool, not to provide answers, but to provide relevant questions that were posed in another time, but are extremely germane now. Taken allegorically, there might be something here that doesn’t necessarily add to the chaos and the noise, but contextualizes it and may help to make our current situation more understandable and, hopefully, more manageable. I want us to move people and to consider problems from multiple points of view.”
Brennen Dickerson (Dr. Adam Stanton): “Just because this is a play with a setting of politics doesn’t mean it has to be a play about politics. You can come into this play and get a wildly different takeaway than someone else. One person might come in and see it as a political drama, but someone else might come in and see it as a deeply personal, deeply human story.”
Jeff Wasileski (Judge Irwin): “One of the aspects of this play that I find fascinating is the very realistic portrayal of how politics work. There’s no real ideology underlying it. It’s all about egos and personality conflicts, and that’s very much what has driven politics throughout history.”
Aneesa Neibauer (Anne Stanton): “I think one of the biggest things this play demonstrates is that, within the political machine, in order to accomplish good things, bad things must be done. The question that raises is, ‘Is that okay?’ That’s the question that the audience will have to ask themselves when they see this show.”
Philip Wheeler (The Professor): “The politics, the impeachment [referring to a motivating plot point for Willie Stark]—it’s all still one person talking to another person. The idealism of—why can’t the machine behave better?—is always challenged by the fact that the machine is comprised of individual people, who are by their nature fallible.”
What about Willie Stark, our fictional figurehead, and the characters who surround him?
Brennen Dickerson: “The way the characters have been written, there are no demons, and there are no saints. Audiences will be able to relate to everyone on stage at some level, politics notwithstanding.”
Jeff Wasileski: “The question that I have about a lot of the characters is whether power has corrupted them, or were they corrupt, and that’s why they sought power?”
Nick Wasileski (Willie Stark): “One of the things that helps me engage with this story—so often in politics, we see these people who are making these decisions as bigger-than-life—this is a very personal story. It takes this figure who, in any other context, is bigger-than-life, and is spoken of as such by people, and you only ever see this man in a personal light. He’s never out of reach of the audience, and, if there is ever a moment where he presents that way, it is either preceded or followed by moments that make it very clear that he is just a person.”
Ross Carmichael (Jack Burden): “Willie embodies a lot of the characteristics that we admire in heroes or villains from other current entertainment. He has a greater goal. He’s doing what he must to meet those ends. He’s working outside the rules of the system he’s in. Whether you’re on his side or not, he’s a hero to a lot of people in his state, the same way that our current leaders are heroes to some people and villains to others.”
Nicholson summed up Gamut’s objectives regarding this production.
“Because of our current political situation, but also because we are seeing these sorts of things arise all over the world, I remembered the book, and I wanted to see if we, as a company, might be able to offer a tool of perspective to our audience,” he said. “To show that existence in our world is often, as Mark Twain said, ‘History doesn’t repeat, but it often rhymes.’”
“All the King’s Men” runs Feb. 16 to March 3 at Gamut Theatre, 15 N. 4th St., Harrisburg. Friday and Saturday performances start at 7:30 p.m., with the box office, Capital BlueCross reception lobby and Peggy’s Pub open to the public starting at 6:30 p.m. Sunday matinées start at 2:30 p.m., with box office, lobby and bar open at 1:30 p.m. Tickets are available at www.gamuttheatre.org/tickets.
Upcoming Theater Events
At Gamut Theatre
“All The Kings Men”
By Robert Penn Warren
Feb. 16 to March 3
Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.
Sundays at 2:30 p.m.