In a world divided into red and blue, a family stands together colored purple.
Set in the fictional town of Anderson, Georgia, the play? “Running Mates” features the complicated dynamics of the Storm family. Sam Storm has been mayor for 20 years, running uncontested in every election until this year – when his opponent is his own wife, Sofia.
The production will run until the end of the month, from October 14 to October 30, at the Hippodrome theatre. The piece sheds light on American political polarization.
Nicholas Perez-Hoop, a 25-year-old actor from St. Petersburg, plays Jimmy Benjamin “JB” Jackson, Sam Storm’s campaign manager. Humor is the story’s main draw, he said, taking a complex discussion and approaching it in a fun and lighthearted way.
“These characters can express their different points of view and are still able to be a family,” he said.
Opposing opinions are the main theme of the Storm house. Sofia Storm, a left-wing liberal, is married to a right-wing politician, and their daughter, Savannah, has proven independent amid the confusion. Through witty banter and relentless fighting, the family puts the deep bipartisan divide in America into perspective.
Chicago author Beth Kander, 39, wrote “Running Mates” in 2010, she said, during the second round of elections where she was able to vote. She had just moved from Boston to Jackson, Mississippi, and the drastic change in political context gave her a boost that inspired the story, she said.
“I felt like I could say something about the whole country by focusing on one small town – one small family – and making it funny,” Kander said.
The play is available for production in amateur or professional theaters through Stage Rights, a theater licensing company that provides stage and performance rights. With “Running Mates,” Kander said an interesting phenomenon occurs: the play gets the most productions every two years during midterm or presidential elections.
The Hippodrome’s artistic director, Stephanie Lynge, agreed that a major factor in producing the play this month is the upcoming Nov. 8 midterm elections.
Decisions on which shows will play at the racetrack are often based on the community, Lynge said, and what affects it at the moment. The selection committee, led by Lynge, concluded that Kander’s play was a “good antidote” for election season, she said.
“We kept coming back to this one because it made us smile,” Lynge said. “Given the division in our country today, that was just a silver lining. We were all coming back to that.”
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Despite their positive outlook, the director, crew and cast faced setbacks, Lynge said. Rehearsals usually last three weeks; but due to Hurricane Ian’s originally projected path through Gainesville, the cast missed three days.
The racetrack is a historic building owned by the city, so when Gainesville closed in anticipation of extreme weather, so did the theater work. That didn’t deter them, Lynge said; instead, the costume and prop designers completed their projects from home and the actors practiced the lines over Zoom.
Kander also believes in the importance of performing the piece during election season, she said, to ease political tensions.
“The optimistic part of me is hoping that bringing in a little humor as a reminder to focus on the humanity — on the personal and not just the political — can serve as a relief,” she said.
“Running Mates” is a valuable art form during election season because the political conversations it parodies are timeless, Kander said. Jokes throughout the play poke fun at the stark division of parties when it comes to topics like women’s rights, immigration, global warming, and the Supreme Court.
Although written more than 10 years ago, they are still hot topics that spark heated debates between the two sides, Kander said.
“Politics is not just a few abstract ideas,” Kander said. ” They are counting. They play a role in people’s lives.
The show asks a common question within the Storm family: Can we find a compromise? The answer in the play is yes, but in real life — especially a decade later — it’s a more complicated question, Kander said.
However, she stated that the purpose of the play remained the same; one of his favorite things about the story is that each character can change perspective and grow. The ending of each act exemplifies those arcs, Kander said, returning to the theme of how politics can remain a hot topic without breaking up a family.
Lynge grew to love the characters and their development, as well as the actors who play them, she said. But she still can’t choose a favorite scene.
“Oh my God, that’s like asking me to pick a favorite kid,” Lynge said.
Ultimately, the show’s commentary on the division of politics is what resonates with her, she said.
“At the end of the day, what matters is getting over the fence,” Lynge said, quoting Liddie, Sofia’s best friend in the play. “It’s something that I think we can use a little more in our world.”
Contact Valentina at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter at @valesrc.
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Valentina Sandoval is a contributing writer for The Alligator.