The Bully Pulpit
Michael O. Smith's compelling performance as Teddy Roosevelt elevates his otherwise standard-issue biodrama.
Smith, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Roosevelt both physically and vocally, sets the work in the study (a wood-paneled marvel from scenic designer Charles Corcoran) of Roosevelt's home in Sagamore, New York. The former president is celebrating his 60th birthday and uses the day as one of reflection on his life. Unwisely, Smith has Roosevelt addressing a crowd that seems to have gathered in the room, and while this conceit establishes Roosevelt's good-natured, if hard-hitting, bonhomie, it also feels unnatural.
The conceit also means that the play falls prey to the "and then I did…" syndrome. After setting the scene and some introductory patter, we get a roughly chronological account of Roosevelt's life -- some of it quite fascinating, but rarely introspective. For instance, Smith never truly explores how growing up during the Civil War with a father from New York and a mother from Georgia affected his political policies, although he does share an amusing anecdote about how his five-year-old Northern smart-aleck sympathies resulted in a good thrashing from his father.