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SU Drama to present reading of 'It Can't Happen Here'

October 20, 2011

Erica Blust
(315) 443-5891

The Syracuse University Department of Drama in the College of Visual and Performing Arts (VPA) will present a staged reading of Sinclair Lewis and John C. Moffitt’s “It Can’t Happen Here” on Monday, Oct. 24, at 7 p.m. in the Archbold Theatre, 820 E. Genesee St. The performance is free and open to the public.

The reading marks the 75th anniversary of the play, which was originally produced in 1936 by the Federal Theatre Project (FTP) of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration (WPA). Twenty-two theaters and universities around the country also will offer readings on Oct. 24 to celebrate the play and the landmark work of the FTP (1935-1939). “It Can’t Happen Here” premiered simultaneously in 23 theaters in 17 states on Oct. 27, 1936.

This 2011 national reading project was initiated by Darryl Henriques, formerly of the San Francisco Mime Troupe (SFMT), and is co-sponsored by the SFMT and Dell’Arte International of Blue Lake, Calif. Henriques hopes to call attention to an important piece of American history and to alert today’s audiences to the Federal Theatre Project, which employed thousands of theater workers, circus performers and cabaret and vaudeville acts.

“Those who’ve seen Tim Robbins’ 1999 movie ‘The Cradle Will Rock’ were introduced to that incredible time when Uncle Sam became the greatest producer of plays in the United States and there was for a fleeting moment a National Theatre administered by the brilliant and indefatigable Hallie Flanagan,” says Henriques. “What started out as a modest idea to celebrate the Federal Theatre and the 75th anniversary of the opening of ‘It Can’t Happen Here’ has truly become a nationwide event.”

Based on Lewis’ novel of the same name, “It Can’t Happen Here” depicts the rise to power of a seemingly populist presidential candidate who turns dictator once elected. The struggle against the president is led by a journalist, Doremus Jessup, who realizes the patriotic posturing of the new administration is a cover for an unconstitutional seizure of power.

Assistant Professor Stephen Cross is organizing the reading for the Department of Drama. He echoes Henriques’ belief that it is important to recall this almost forgotten and exciting time in American theater history. The Department of Drama visited this time recently by opening the 2011-2012 season with Marc Blitzstein’s pro-union, 1937 musical “The Cradle Will Rock.” Directed by Orson Welles and produced by John Houseman, the original production of “The Cradle Will Rock” sparked one of the most controversial episodes in the history of the WPA when the actors and crew were locked out of their theater the day before opening.

For more information, contact Cross at (315) 443-3213.

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