“How do I keep the audience interested and not falling asleep with just one person?” was the question running through James Creer’s mind as he prepared for his role as Alonzo Fields in Looking Over the President’s Shoulder. The one-man show, put on by the Tabard Theatre Company, follows the reminiscences of Fields on his last day as chief butler of the White House, a post which he held from 1931 to 1953. 

Fields had intended to work at the White House for only a couple of months until he had saved enough money to continue training as an opera singer. However, with a wife and child to support, a couple of months turned into a couple of decades. Over the two hours of the play, he remembers the four presidents he served, from Hoover to Eisenhower, and various historical figures.

The script is peppered with anecdotes about the likes of Winston Churchill, Eleanor Roosevelt and others, and armed with these narrative nuggets, Creer more than ably holds the audience’s interest. At various points, he plays presidents and first ladies and then tops it all off by singing several operatic arias. The connection between the performer and the audience is immediate, as Tabard’s intimate physical arrangement places everyone within a few feet of the stage.

Director Doug Baird says that what grabbed him about the play was that as a butler, “[Fields] always had to be silent until he quit. He was only observing. He didn’t participate in any of these conversations. He was silent the whole time. And he couldn’t show an interest even. He couldn’t even move his eyes. He had to just listen. And now he has a voice through this play. He can react to it.”

Despite how engagingly Creer gives Fields a voice, James Still’s script shies away from really digging into his thoughts. As an African American in the White House from the Great Depression to the early days of the Civil Rights movement, Fields undoubtedly experienced the inner workings of institutional racism, not to mention the discrimination he faced himself.

However, the script only touches briefly on these themes. In one of the more poignant moments, Fields explains how he keeps the discrimination from getting to him with the strong sense of personal dignity imparted by by his parents; later, he mentions the blatant racism during Roosevelt’s discussion about appointing former Ku Klux Klan member Hugo Black to the Supreme Court. Despite this lack of depth though, a one-man performance that requires both opera singing and a drunken Churchill impression is worth seeing on those virtues alone.

Looking Over the President’s Shoulder
Thu-Sat, 8pm, Sun, 2pm; $10-$29
Theatre on San Pedro Square

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