Rick Cleveland cut his teeth as a playwright working in Chicago – he went on to big things, like winning an Emmy for his writing on the political drama, The West Wing. Later it was the TV series Six Feet Under, and more recently, the new political drama House of Cards.
Despite his success on the small screen, Cleveland’s latest work combines his interest in Presidential politics with his love for writing for the stage.
Five Presidents gets its world premiere at the Milwaukee Rep, and runs through April 5th. Set in California in 1994, former Presidents Ford, Carter, Reagan and Bush – along with sitting President Bill Clinton, gather backstage at Richard Nixon’s funeral. Like in his television writing, Cleveland’s play has its really funny moments and its serious, political side as the presidents compare notes about their job and their unique club.
Rick Cleveland shared the backstory of the play and his life long fascination of the politics of the oval office with Lake Effect's Mitch Teich:
"I can't imagine a worst job [than the presidency], and I don't think it's a healthy person who goes after it. And I almost think that if you want it you should automatically not be allowed to have it or run for it," says Cleveland.
Cleveland's presidential characters range from the fierce intellect and stoicism of Josiah Bartlet in The West Wing to the cut throat politics and schemes of Frank Underwood in House of Cards. The changed climate of politics today is clearly seen in the way the five presidents interact in his play.
"I think it was still kind of a different era. It was an era when you could get into a room with guys from the other party and it wouldn't be divisive. Washington just wasn't that way then," says Cleveland.
No matter your stance on politicians and issues today, Five Presidents offers a new look as a "fly on the wall" piece overseeing a meeting and credible dialog that very few would be privy to as the characters struggle to follow Nixon and the changes in transparency since Watergate.