‘It Can’t Happen Here’ Continues Today And Saturday

“It Can’t Happen Here” is based on the novel by Nobel Prize winning author Sinclair Lewis and adapted for the Stage by Tony Taccone and Bennet S. Cohen.

The play opens at a Rotary Club meeting in the fictional bucolic town of Fort Beulah, Vermont. The audience is introduced to the play’s protagonist Doremus Jessup, played by Steven Cobb, and his “partner” in dissent, and then resistance, Lorinda Pike, played in a forthright and compassionate manner by Willow Fodor. Doremus is the traditional liberal editor and proprietor of the town’s only newspaper, the Fort Beulah Daily Informer. During the meeting Lorinda proclaims her disapproval of the presidential candidacy of Senator Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip, played by Skip Anderson, only to be shouted down by the rest of the Rotary Club. In a subsequent scene Lorinda warns “it can happen here.”

It’s a pleasant summer in New England for Doremus, Lorinda, and his extended family, who celebrate Independence Day together, but it’s 1936 and we are reminded throughout the play of the growing shadow cast by the rise of fascism and communism in Europe. As summer turns to fall the “blind mule” candidacy of, Buzz Windrip, rising on the populist platform promising social reform, and to restore the country to greatness again, eventually sees the light of day. This occurs much to the consternation of Doremeus and Lorinda. Skip Anderson delivers a very realistic portrayal of the demagogic, bombastic, and power hungry Windrup during the campaign speech scenes as the audience is encouraged, even expected to participate.

In early November Buzz Windrip is elected the 33rd President of the United States. Doremus ‘line, “Oh my God what have we done,” portends a disturbing turn of events in the country and Fort Beulah in particular. Windrip quickly declares martial law, converts schools into concentration camps, seizes control of the press, and executes his critics, as he empowers local military judges and his henchmen militia, the Minutemen, to enforce his iron fisted agenda.

Just before intermission, Doremus, urged on by his daughter and Lorinda, gathers the strength of will to publish a scathing denouncement of Windrip’s “assault on Democracy,” as he rejects Windrip as his President. This editorial lands Doremus in jail and then before the military judge, and puts his family in harms way. Doremus is sentenced to “publishing articles that fully respect the ideals and intentions” of the Windrip administration. This sends us directly into the continuous angst and conflict in Part Two.

Much of the plays theme centers on journalistic integrity. Windrup rails against the “so-called journalists” during his campaign, yet one character notes “The more offensive his remarks, the more papers get sold” Once elected President he immediately takes control of the newspapers. Forced to remake his independent newspaper into a propaganda rag, Doremus joins the underground resistance to Windrip’s rule and “was back to being a real journalist, investigating leads and digging for the truth”. Steven Cobb deftly takes us through the twists and turns of Doremus’ journey, ultimately landing in the footsteps of the Civil Wars’ Underground Railroad as he flees Windrip’s authoritarian rule.

The question of whether or not It Can Happen Here is one we explore as a free and uninhibited press is the cornerstone of our right to freedom of speech in a Democratic society. Yet these rights could be threatened if the country settles into a collective apathy and general malaise, indicating a general ignorance of the realities of the changing political landscape where collective participation is required.

Could It Happen Here? Please join the Winged Ox players as they present “It Can’t Happen Here” at the Willow Bay Theatre today and Saturday at 7 p.m. and you be the judge.

Admission to the show is free, but free-will donations are encouraged. Proceeds from the performances will be used to establish a scholarship for a Chautauqua County senior with an interest in studying journalism at a two – or four-year College.

The Winged Ox Players is a ministry of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church that engages the theatrical talents of the greater Jamestown area to present plays that inspire conversations about our community. Individuals interested in more information about the Players are asked to contact Deacon Pierce at 969-7412 or Steven Cobb at 499-5142.