One of our favorite playwrights is Mark St.Germain whose work is produced at Barrington Stage. We first saw Freud’s Last Session whose characters are Freud and C. S. Lewis. For someone who teaches developmental psychology and children’s literature, what could be a better cast of characters. We loved the play and all of his subsequent plays we have seen, including a reading of a play about Mrs. Lincoln and a medium. The one play we haven’t seen is one that I read and loved before we had ever seen a production of St. Germain’s which Is Camping with Henry and Tom which I reviewed in my reading journal and have posted below.
I have also posted a link to a video of the playwright and Dr. Ruth. When we got our tickets for that season, we were wondering about this play. We only knew that Dr. Ruth was some sex therapist and what could a play about her be like? The play was wonderful and fortunately we were there on a night when Mark St. Germain was interviewing Dr. Ruth. The actress who had played her was wonderful, but she was taller than Dr. Ruth who was as charming in person as she was depicted in the play.
Given how well he writes historical plays, we wondered how St. Germain would do with a contemporary play. When we saw Dancing Lessons we knew he would do wonderfully. As someone who has worked with autistic children, I am very sensitive to how people on the autistic spectrum are portrayed and St. Germain did masterfully. Someday, we hope to be able to interview him on our program.
Camping With Henry and Tom
Having read an intriguing review of this play some years ago, I was eager to read it. This is a play for our times. Henry Ford is the business man who is going to fix American by lowering taxes, cutting government and giving everyone jobs. He is the villain of the piece whom you hate because of his ambition, his anti-Semitism and his cruelty to his son. This is a four character play based on the fact that Harding did go camping with Ford and Edison, but the action as happens did not take place although some of their speeches reflect some of what they actually said in other contexts. The play opens with a deer being struck by Ford as he drives a car into it.
The deer is an important offstage character as we see the men revealed by their reaction to it. Harding cares about it and wants to help it, either by killing it to put it out of its misery or feeding it. Ford is dismissing of it, his inherent cruelty being evident in his attitude. Edison is somewhat indifferent to it. Edison is the best part in the play, being the wise cynic. He is the one who finally defeats Ford who wants to be president. Edison points out the limitations of their inventions whereas Ford thinks they are wonderful and that he is the most popular man in America. He is the epitome of the ruthless capitalist. He offers five million dollars for a factory the tax payer has spent 80 million on and insists that there be 55 million dollars worth of repairs done before he takes over. He despises Harding for his weakness and his vice. However, it turns out that Ford has a similar vice in regard to women.
The original cast was a good one with Ken Howard as Harding and Robert Prosky as Edison. I am sure Prosky loved the part and did a great job, because he is the character with whom you identify although you do feel for Harding who according to this didn’t want to be president. Unlike Ford, he knows and accepts his limitations and is not going to let Ford get the factory that he wants. There is also a security agent who comes in at the end and only wants to make sure that no one knows that the president has been missing for a few hours. He kills the deer not to put it out of its misery, but to destroy evidence of this having happened. This is a good way to teach history, as I continuously maintain. I want to read our book on Harding as a result. This is my idea of a really fine play. Knowing how much performance enriches a play, I would love to see this staged.