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Jimmy Carter Was a Democrat 

A complex play about air traffic controllers never gets off the ground

Wednesday, Jul 13 2005
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It's not every day that a workers' union endorses a Republican candidate, but Rinne Groff's quirky play, Jimmy Carter Was a Democrat, shows us the circumstances under which such a scenario came to pass. Set in 1986, the play follows the lives of U.S. air traffic controllers as they struggle to keep the skies safe, their hours and pay steady, and their personal lives from derailing. How do they do it? By voting for Ronald Reagan. A contemporary take on Depression-era agitprop plays like Clifford Odets' Waiting for Lefty, Jimmy Carter is packed with eccentric linguistic juxtapositions -- from air traffic control-speak ("November one zero eight niner lima, turn right heading ...") to scholarly history lecture to jingoistic union anthem. The Shee Theatre Company has produced smart work in recent years (Becca and Heidi, Riddance), but Jimmy Carter doesn't quite get off the ground with the same success: Laura Hope gives a sassy performance as the play's protagonist, lone female air traffic control employee Emily, but the complex personal, professional, and historical framework of Groff's sprawling text makes staging her piece as difficult as navigating a broken-winged biplane through a tropical storm.

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Chloe Veltman

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