Modestly staged, yet epic in scope, City Lights Theater Company‘s 44 Plays for 44 Presidents is exactly what its title says: a string of short, mostly self-contained miniature performances that relate the history of the U.S. presidency. Originally conceived by Chicago’s Neo-Futurists, best known for their similarly structured Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind, 44 Plays is being staged across the country this fall.

Each of the 44 plays is quite different. Some are absurdist comedies; others solemn tragedies; still others musicals. While all the great presidents are covered, even Rutherford Hayes, Benjamin Harrison and Chester Arthur (the latter played by a volunteer from the audience) get their time in the spotlight. They are, after all, as much a part of presidential history as Washington, Lincoln and the Roosevelts.

In the first play, a stoic, godlike George Washington (Bill Davidovich) dons a red, white and blue coat symbolizing the office of president. In the following plays, the coat makes its way among a four-member cast—some fight over the coat, while others, like William Howard Taft (Ruth E. Stein), wear it reluctantly. In the case of James Garfield (Davidovich), fellow party members must staple it to his back before he will put it on.

There are quite a few colorful characters, from the party animal Grover Cleveland, played by Ken Boswell, to Karen DeHart’s somber Abraham Lincoln and Stein’s gluttonous Zachary Taylor. True to the Neo-Futurist aesthetic, there is no attempt at realistic portrayal, no attempt at resurrecting these men and letting them speak for themselves. The perspective is unabashedly present-day, which often results in humorous anachronisms (the recent Boody Bloody Andrew Jackson was in a similar vein).

Some of the gags are especially funny if you’re familiar with the lives of the presidents, but no prior knowledge is needed to enjoy the stories. Indeed, many of the segments assume that the audience doesn’t know much and assume an educational tone.

The end of the performance, however, transfers responsibility to the audience. Conspicuously open-ended, the production finishes with a heartfelt admonition to vote in November, to get your friends and family to vote, and to help write the next chapter in the history of the American presidency. Whether or not you believe that your vote counts for anything, you have to admire the sincerity.

44 Plays for 44 Presidents
Runs through Oct 21 at City Lights Theater Company, San Jose
Tickets are