On Stage

Fear of Fascism

It Can’t Happen Here

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Dr. Lawrence Britt’s “14 Characteristics of Fascism” reads kind of like Donald Trump’s “to-do” list.

Among the biggies the President of the United States has thus far checked off are rampant sexism, controlled mass media, obsession with national security, powerful and continuing nationalism, disdain for the recognition of human rights, identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause, the protection of corporate power and cronyism.

Behind the scenes of It Can’t Happen Here—based on Sinclair Lewis’ novel of the same name—director Damond Morris says the play currently showing at Skagit Valley College’s Philip Tarro Theater is framed around these tenets.

The book asks what happens when America has a dictator, and Morris says the answer is as important in 2018 as it was in the 1930s, when the novel was adapted by Lewis for the stage as part of the Federal Theatre Project. It opened in 22 cities simultaneously prior to the election of 1936.

“Across the country the play ran for five years, and spoke to the fears real folks had—on the right and the left—with the rise of fascism in Europe moving onto U.S. shores and to the power assumed by the FDR administration to get the country back on its feet,” Morris says. “Today, while the economy is touted as being ‘good,’ most families struggle to make ends meet and the power continues to rise to the top while excluding the bottom 99 percent. This play speaks as well today as it did in 1936 because we have similar fears. The trouble is we no longer have a Commander in Chief who says ‘there is nothing to fear but fear itself.’”

Audience members who see similarities between Trump and his fictional counterpart, President Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip, may find hope in the characters who oppose the new regime and work to end it. A preshow talk with historian Kurt Dunbar on the aforementioned characteristics of fascism, and a post-performance discussion following each production will bolster the work of the cast, who Morris says are exploring serious issues in dramatic fashion and “knocking it out of the park.”

When asked why he thinks sales of It Can’t Happen Here have skyrocketed since the 2016 election, Morris says he hopes it’s because people are paying attention to the fact that it’s the responsibility of all Americans to get politically active so a totalitarian government can’t continue to take away their individual rights.

“One of the key issues we face, which Lewis did not face during the Great Depression, is massive apathy and disinterest in voting-age Americans,” Morris says. “As the number of voters go down, through voter suppression or apathy, corporate power and control of government increases. My hope is that this play will help get people off the couch and into the voting booth.”

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