As True Today as It Ever Was

Sinclair Lewis’ satire is a 1935 story ripped from today’s headlines.


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The Rep opens the season with an adaptation of Sinclair Lewis’ "It Can’t Happen Here" with David Kelly as Buzz Windrip.

Kevin Berne/Berkeley Repertory Theatre

The setup sounds all too familiar. In Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s world premiere play It Can’t Happen Here, a charismatic populist wins an election for president of the United States promising to make America great again.

Once he’s in office, he sets up a fascist dictatorship, imprisoning political opponents in concentration camps, eliminating the right to free speech, strips women and minorities of their civil rights, and sends armed forces to keep the citizenry in line.

Despite its eerie resonance, the play isn’t based on the current election but on Sinclair Lewis’ prophetic 1935 novel of the same name, written during the rise of fascism in Europe. Berkeley Rep artistic director Tony Taccone teamed up with Bennett S. Cohen to adapt the satire into a play to open the theater’s season, and the show, conveniently enough, runs right up until the election.

It’s directed by Lisa Peterson, who co-adapted and directed An Iliad at Berkeley Rep and has come aboard as the company’s associate director starting this season. The exciting cast features a lot of familiar faces such as Scott Coopwood (last seen in Berkeley Rep’s Macbeth); Deidrie Henry of the Rep’s Yellowman; Ubuntu Theater Project co-artistic director William Thomas Hodgson; former Shotgun Players mainstay Anna Ishida; comedic MVP Sharon Lockwood; Alexander Lydon (Shotgun’s The Rover); Tom Nelis (Dear Elizabeth); Charles Shaw Robinson (Eurydice) and more.

This isn’t the first time It Can’t Happen Here has been adapted into a play; one co-written by author Lewis and John C. Moffitt happened as early as 1936. But, sadly, there couldn’t be a more appropriate time for it to happen here.

It Can’t Happen Here, Sept. 23-Nov. 6, Tue., Thu., Fri., Sat. 8 p.m.; Wed., Sun. 7 p.m.; Sat., Sun. 2 p.m.; Berkeley Repertory Theatre, 2015 Addison St., Berkeley; $29-$97; 510-647-2949, BerkeleyRep.org.

Published online on Sept. 27, 2016 at 8:00 a.m.

This report was published in the October edition of our sister publication, The East Bay Monthly.

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