Sinclair Lewis, the first American to receive a Nobel Prize for literature, wrote his shocking dystopian novel, “It Can’t Happen Here,” in 1935. The next year his stage adaptation, written with a coauthor, became a Broadway hit.
In 2016 Tony Taccone and Bennett Cohen wrote a new version for a production at Berkeley Rep.
Now running at the Very Little Theatre, this interpretation directed by Stan Coleman is both melodramatic and didactic. The sweeping story shows how poverty can lead people to sacrifice democracy for a blind belief in the empty promises of a president turned dictator, Buzz Windrip.
The election of this ruthless businessman shakes the world. The local effects of his actions are reported by Doremus Jessup, the genteel editor of a small-town newspaper in Vermont. Like most other journalists, he is eventually named an enemy of the people and taken into custody.
Bullies rise to power as Minute Men, the president’s personal militia. Circumstances parallel those in Nazi Germany, and Jews are no longer safe. Property is confiscated. Murder is rampant. Anyone who criticizes the regime is beaten, tortured, held in concentration camps or killed.
Ultimately, hope is rekindled among diverse groups of brave dissidents.
A large cast plays an even larger number of characters. Many of the male roles are portrayed with a refreshing twist by women. Major roles are well played by Russell Dyball, Sabrina Gross, Joel Ibáñez and Maggie Hadley.
Can it happen here? It’s certainly worth pondering. The play’s last performance at the VLT is November 2.