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Dems? GOP? Vote Gracie!

Maille O'Brien packs the punchlines as Gracie Allen alongside Paul Roder as George Burns in HART's latest production, Gracie for President, opening this week in Hillsboro.What better time for shenanigans and political spoofery than a presidential election?

While Barack Obama and Mitt Romney duke it out all over the nation for the white house main seat, comedian and candidate Gracie Allen of the 1950s radio and television vaudeville duo, Burns and Allen, will jump into the race for the presidency on stage at Hillsboro Artists’ Repertoire Theatre.

Allen’s candidacy started as a radio gimmick in 1940 as Gracie announced her intention to run for president on the Surprise Party ticket (the party’s mascot was a kangaroo and the slogan was “It’s in the bag”). But the joke gained real momentum when she and her husband, comedian George Burns, spread the news at radio stations across the country and garnered some 40,000 votes.

From Will Rogers to Stephen Colbert, comedians running for president is a historical electoral gag that never gets old. Yet Gracie was the only candidate to tell Americans to be proud of our national debt, “It’s the biggest in the world,” she boasted.

A few years ago, Forest Grove resident Norma Hill found Gracie’s inaugural address online and thought it would make for great theater. So, she wrote Gracie for President based off the couple’s faux political campaign. Just prior to the 2008 election, her play debuted at Sandy Actor’s Theatre and was a smash hit — the highest grossing play in Sandy’s history.

Now running with the slogan “Down with Common Sense” and starring a new cast — Maille O’Brien packs the punchlines as Gracie Allen and Paul Roder plays her straight man, George Burns — Hill’s “Gracie for President” opens the season at HART on Friday, Sept. 7 with copious comic relief.

After more or less saving Christmas for HART last year with a three-week turnaround performance, this will be Roder’s first time acting as HART’s new co-artistic director.

Gracie for President

Why is Gracie the best nominee for presidency? “Gracie is a candidate that everyone can stand behind,” said Hill, “She could take something and turn it around so it made absolutely no sense.”

While her and George were known for poking fun at just about everything, when it comes to politics Gracie gets serious.

When asked what she would do to provide more relief for the American people? Build more rest stops. Another Gracie solution to burning matters of the day: “Congressmen should be paid on commission. When the country is doing well — they get paid.”

In her day, she even published a book, “How to Become President,” by Gracie Allen. A highly intelligent and well-connected woman, one reporter asked if she would recognize Russia, to which Gracie replied, “I don’t know... I meet so many people.”

“The whole play is like this,” said Hill, “One right after another — you’ll be laughing until your sides hurt.”

Rated “G” for Gracie

Hill has been reading lots and lots of plays since she joined Hillsboro Artists’ Regional Theater as a volunteer soon after the company opened over 20 years ago. Hill has been a county Property Tax Collector for 33 years but would rather hunker down in the theater, reading and writing plays. She started helping out in the children’s theater department at HART where she got a taste of everything — lighting, box office, sound, set building, janitorial — before she eased into acting and eventually, directing and writing plays.

Hill wrote mostly children’s plays until about 10 years ago when she started writing plays for adults. Gracie is the first of her adult plays to be performed.

Hill sifted through hundreds of hours of Burns and Allen programs to adapt their campaign models into a show. In the 1950s, the comedic team’s show, The Gracie Allen and George Burns Show, was one of the first to successfully transition from radio to TV and the first series to depict the home life of a working showbiz couple.

“Gracie for President” is Norma Hill’s reminder to folks today about the heritage of comedy and how humor in radio and television transformed American living rooms in the post-war era.

“It was just so nice to hear something so illogical and funny to take your mind off all the problems of the day,” she said.

When curtains close, Hill hopes the audience will walk away feeling just as good.

At least until they turn on the television to the long and furious Democrat and Republican battle.




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