'Five Presidents'

From left to right: James Ramlet as Gerald Ford, Martin L’Herault as Jimmy Carter, Casey E. Lewis as George H.W. Bush, Steve Sheridan as Ronald Reagan and William Gilness as Bill Clinton.

EXCELSIOR — The Old Log Theatre is bringing the Lake Minnetonka area back to April 27, 1994, with its current running play “Five Presidents."

Theater-goers will spend an hour and a half in the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, California, with former Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and President Bill Clinton as they face the legacies of their administrations and the legacy of Richard Nixon.

Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush and Clinton are attending Nixon’s funeral. Each president arrives, faces the crowd and is then ushered into the library by the Secret Service, where they greet each other. Clinton is the last to arrive, creating awkward interactions between himself and the past presidents. While all the other presidents refer to each other by their first names, Clinton is addressed as Mr. President.

Each president is struggling with their place in the “Presidents Club” and their legacy in office.

  • Ford is facing the prospect of eulogizing Nixon and his decision to pardon him 20 years prior. He struggles with his legacy — the president who was never elected but came into power due to another’s crimes.
  • Carter faces criticism from the other presidents for his philanthropy — his decision to stay in the political sphere after his presidency ended — the go-to former president for diplomatic trips.
  • Reagan cracks jokes and unites the presidents in their concern for him and his clearly failing memory. Reagan slips in and out of the present, at one point asking why Nixon was late to his own funeral.
  • Bush criticizes Clinton, his policies and his approval rating. Bush lashes out in anger at the current president for what he feels is ignorance in office. Bush is the most recent ex-president and brings up partisan bickering with the other former presidents.
  • Clinton awkwardly joins the “Presidents Club” with confusion painting his face for much of the play. He bickers with Bush, blames him for the United State's involvement in Iraq and the decisions he’s had to make while in office that resulted in the deaths of several Iraqis.
  • Nixon watches over the "Presidents Club" through a large portrait on display in the library. It is remarked that it feels like Nixon is with them in the library because of his overwhelming presence in the large portrait and the legacy his presidency left on the office of the president.

The partisan bickering ends when it becomes clear that Reagan is struggling with Alzheimer’s disease and is in denial about it. The presidents work together to reassure Reagan and each other of their legacies, their decisions in office and the men and women who died under their watch.

Each president has a unique relationship with their predecessor and successor, albeit somewhat contentious. Even Ford and Carter, the chummiest of the presidents, squabble about decisions each of them made during their time in power.

“Five Presidents” balances humor and historical references to create a cohesive performance that anyone who lived through these presidencies or any history buff will enjoy.

Frances Stevenson is a reporter for the Lakeshore Weekly News, covering the communities around Lake Minnetonka.