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Monday, December 05, 2022

Political comedy ‘Running Mates’ to debut at the Hippodrome weeks before midterm elections

Show will run from Oct. 14 to Oct. 30

<p>Courtesy to The Alligator</p>

Courtesy to The Alligator

In a world divided into red and blue, one family stands together colored purple.

Set in the fictional town of Anderson, Georgia, the play? “Running Mates” presents the complicated dynamic of the Storm family. Sam Storm has been mayor for 20 years, running uncontested every election until this year — when his opponent is his own wife, Sofia. 

The production will run through the end of the month, from Oct. 14 to Oct. 30, at The Hippodrome Theatre. The play makes light of American political polarization.

Nicholas Perez-Hoop, a 25-year-old actor from St. Petersburg, plays Jimmy Benjamin “J.B.” Jackson, Sam Storm’s campaign manager. Humor is the main appeal of the story, he said, taking a complex discussion and tackling it in a fun, lighthearted way.

“These characters can express their different views and are still able to be a family,” he said.  

Opposing opinions are the main theme of the Storm household. Sofia Storm, a left-wing liberal, is married to a right-wing politician, and their daughter, Savannah, came out as an independent in the middle of the confusion. Through witty banter and incessant fighting, the family puts the deep bipartisan divide in America into perspective.

Chicago-based author Beth Kander, 39, wrote “Running Mates” in 2010, she said, during the second round of elections where she was able to vote. She had just moved from Boston to Jackson, Mississippi, and the stark change in political setting gave her a whiplash that inspired the story, she said.

“I felt like I could say something about the whole country by focusing on one small town — one small family — and making it funny,” Kander said.

The play’s available for production in amateur or professional theaters through Stage Rights, a theater licensing company that provides stage and performance rights. With “Running Mates,” Kander said an interesting phenomenon happens: The play gets the most productions every two years during midterms or presidential elections.

Hippodrome Artistic Director Stephanie Lynge agreed that a major factor for producing the play this month are the upcoming midterm elections Nov. 8. 

The decisions on which shows will play in the Hippodrome are often based on the community, Lynge said, and what’s affecting it at the moment. The selection committee, which Lynge leads, concluded that Kander’s play was a “good antidote” for the election season, she said.

“We kept coming back to this one because it made us smile,” Lynge said. “Given the division in our country today, it was just a ray of hope. We all kept coming back to it.”

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Despite their positive outlook, the director, crew and cast faced some setbacks, Lynge said. Rehearsals typically last three weeks; but due to the original projected path of Hurricane Ian through Gainesville, the cast missed three days.

The Hippodrome is a historic building owned by the city, so when Gainesville shut down in anticipation of severe weather, so did the theater’s work. This didn’t discourage them, Lynge said; instead, costume and prop designers finished their projects from home and actors practiced lines over Zoom. 

Kander, too, believes in the importance of putting on this play during election season, she said, to alleviate political tension.

“The optimistic part of me hopes that bringing a little bit of humor as a reminder to focus on the humanity — on the personal and not just the political — can serve as a relief,” she said.

“Running Mates” is a valuable form of art during election season because the political conversations it parodies are timeless, Kander said. Running jokes throughout the play poke fun at the clear party divide when talking about topics such as women’s rights, immigration, global warming and the Supreme Court. 

Although written more than 10 years ago, these are still hot topics that spark heated debates between the two parties, Kander said.

“Politics are not just some abstract ideas,” Kander said. “They matter. They play out a part in people’s lives.”

The show asks a common question within the Storm family: Can we find a compromise? The answer in the play is yes, but in real life — especially a decade later — it’s a more complicated question, Kander said.

However, she said the purpose of the play remains the same; one of her favorite things about the story is that each character gets to shift their perspective and grow. The end of each act illustrates these arcs, Kander said, going back to the theme of how politics can remain a crucial topic without breaking up a family.

Lynge grew to love the characters and their development, along with the actors playing them, she said. But she still can’t pick a favorite scene.

“Oh gosh, that’s like asking me to pick a favorite child,” Lynge said.

Ultimately, the show's commentary on the divisiveness of politics is what resonates with her, she said. 

“At the end of the day, what matters is reaching across the fence,” Lynge said, quoting Liddie, Sofia’s best friend in the play. “That is something I feel we can use a little bit more of in our world.”

Contact Valentina at sandovalv@ufl.edu or follow her on Twitter at @valesrc.

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Valentina Sandoval

Valentina Sandoval is a contributing writer for The Alligator.


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