Everyone knows the Capital Fringe Festival’s lineup is crazy varied—-deliberately provocative fare like F#@KING UP EVERYTHING (sic), The N Word? (sic), and Hotel Fuck are but one button-pushing demographic in the vast taxonomy of the festival’s 100-plus shows. But what’re the odds we’d get two solo shows about two different Roosevelts?
How about ONE HUNDRED PERCENT?
(I am counting Alice as a solo show because only one actor appears on stage, even though she interacts with the unseen voice of her father, Teddy Roosevelt, played by Will Cooke.)
Fringe & Purge saw both shows last night and got the sweet & lowdown.
The Show: The Man in the Arena
The Roosevelt: Theodore, President of the United States, 1901-1909
Played by: Derek Evans, 68, of Chicago, Ill.
Written by: Evans, from the works of Teddy Roosevelt and his various biographers
Because: After 30 years and what he estimates to be 7,000 performances of Shakespeare plays, Evans was looking for something else to do. An agent-friend of his suggested that playing our polymath of a 26th president for school groups & the like would be a way to earn some steady money. Evans knew only a little about Teddy at the time—-“I’d seen Arsenic and Old Lace,” he says—-but Teddy’s fictionalized appearance in Caleb Carr‘s novel The Alienist got him interested.
Evans went on to devour many nonfiction tomes about and by Roosevelt, who wrote nearly 20 volumes before he died in his sleep at the age of 60. Evans says Roosevelt is an underrecognized figure, often caricatured as a simple, warlike man for his Rough Riders bravado. One of the many things I learned from Evans is that “Rough Riders” was the newspapers’ term. Teddy preferred to call his cavalry regiment “the children of the dragon’s blood.”
Which is to say, the truth is far weirder and more impressive.
“He doesn’t fit into any category,” Evans says, pointing out that his alter ego read in seven languages and could quote accurately and at length from books he’d consumed 20 years earlier. “He was comfortable discussing philosophy with Harvard professors, Naval tactics with the Joint Chiefs, or bug-collecting with four-year olds.” Evans has performed as Teddy about 500 times, he says, for students at every grade level, historical sociteties, museums and — just in the last year — assisted living facilities. This is his first appearance at our Fringe or anybody’s, though he’s booked to play the Chicago Fringe in September.
“I’ve gotten so enthusiastic about him that it’s tough to have a normal conversation anymore,” Evans laughs. “Teddy keeps coming up.”
The Roosevelt: Duh, Alice Longworth. Teddy’s firstborn.
Played by: Joy Davidson, of Florida
Written by: Kitty Felde, who by day covers Capitol Hill for the Pasadena, CA public radio station KPCC
Because: “It’s an old play that came out of my trunk,” says Felde. Some 20-odd years ago, when Felde was a struggling actor in Los Angeles, she was commissioned by an older actress she knew to write a one-woman show about Alice Longworth Roosevelt, Teddy’s controversy-loving eldest, who once proudly declared herself a “hedonist” in a 60 Minutes interview. The actor didn’t care for what Felde wrote, and there ended the project—-until 2010, when a mutual friend passed Felde’s script onto Joy Davidson, who’d played opera singer Maria Callas in a one-woman show. They’ve done a few readings, at the Thedore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site in New York City and at Naples, Fla.’s Philharmonic Center of the Arts, but this is their first full production.
“It’s my first play in DC,” Felde says. “It’s not at all like what I write now. These days I write weird stuff.”
The Man in the Arena, about Teddy Roosevelt, is at the Redrum tonight at 9:45 and tomorrow at noon.
Alice, an Evening with Alice Roosevelt Longworth, is at the Mountain tomorrow at 5 p.m., July 21st at 8 p.m., July 22nd at 9:45 p.m., and July 23rd at 5:15 p.m.