By the time I had the opportunity to see Derek Evans’s 75-minute solo biographical lecture enactment, Teddy Roosevelt: The Man in the Arena, this past Sunday afternoon, it was one of a single-digit number of theatrical productions not yet canceled or postponed in Chicago due to COVID-19. The other holdouts included another one-performer play, shows with drastically reduced house sizes, or productions making on-the-fly preparations to stream digitally.
A latex-glove-wearing Saint at the Greenhouse took tickets without tearing them (to avoid back-and-forth contact); another politely gestured toward a stack of programs a few feet away. To the audience of about a dozen in the upstairs mainstage space, all spaced mindfully apart, Evans warmly performed his most recent iteration (he pulls from three or four hours of written content emphasizing different periods in Roosevelt’s life) as the mustachioed Bull Moose, here focusing on his self-determined rise to the presidency. Even if only for an hour or so, it was comforting to focus on tales of a ballbuster in the White House who threw his weight around on behalf of the common good; a chapter on Roosevelt’s father pressuring wealthy investors with brute sentimental pressure to fund a hospital is particularly moving.
How would I have felt about Teddy if I had experienced it under normal circumstances? Hell if I know. I was just grateful, frankly, to be in the company of an audience, however spare, for what could very well be the last time in a while. v