Writer David Rambo talks about his Ronald Reagan play, starring Robert Forster
Sunday's centennial birthday of the late former President Ronald Reagan has prompted a deluge of editorials, remembrances and celebrations, including a memorial event that will be held at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley this weekend as well as a special tribute during Sunday's Super Bowl game.
With the nation focused on all things Reagan, it is apparently an opportune moment for producers to announce a new stage and screen project that will focus on the life of the 40th president.
Actor Robert Forster will portray Reagan in a new biographical play titled "The Lifeguard: Ronald Reagan and His Story," written by David Rambo. The one-man show is expected to tour the country but exact dates and cities have not been released yet. Organizers of the play said that the tour is scheduled for this year and that while they haven't yet booked a theater in Los Angeles, a local engagement is possible, given Reagan's personal connections to Southern California. (News of the play was reported earlier Friday by Deadline Hollywood.)
Rambo, who is working on ABC's series "V" and has worked for CBS' "CSI," said in an interview with Culture Monster that the play, which is about 90 minutes long, will focus more on Reagan, the man, and less on the politics, although his multiple meetings with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev will act as a structuring device.
"There are a lot of Reagan haters out there," said Rambo. "I was one of those Reagan haters for a long time. But the more I researched, the more I felt -- not a love -- but a respect for Reagan the man." The writer said he met with Reagan's daugher, Patti Davis, and conducted research at the Reagan library. He said Davis shared personal correspondence, and that "more than anything, she helped me to find her father's voice and point of view."
Rambo said that "Lifeguard" is the kind of play "that I as a big city liberal and theater lover would want to see." (The title of the show is a reference to Reagan's job as a lifeguard during his college days.)
The seed of the play, which will eventually be filmed for the movies, came from producers David Permut and J. Mark Travis, who worked on the Harry Truman biographical play and movie, "Give 'Em Hell, Harry," which debuted in 1975.
Permut said in an interview that the idea for the Reagan play came about two years ago, with the knowledge that it would coincide with the centennial year. "Timing is always crucial," he said. The producers decided to go with a one-man-show format that had proved successful with "Give 'Em Hell, Harry," which starred James Whitmore, and they brought on Peter Hunt, who had directed the Truman play.
Permut said Forster was cast because of his ability to transform himself into Reagan. "What needs to happen in any one-character show is that the actor needs to become the character. Robert has on every level done that," said the producer.
Rambo's most recent play was the Ann Landers biographical drama "The Lady with All the Answers," a one-woman show starring Mimi Kennedy that ran at the Pasadena Playhouse in 2008. The play later transferred to New York's Cherry Lane Theatre, with actress Judith Ivey.
-- David Ng
Photo (top): Ronald Reagan with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, in 1985. Credit: STR / EPA
Photo (bottom): Reagan as a lifeguard in the summer of his sophomore year at Eureka College in Eureka, Ill. Credit: Associated Press