Theater Review - Looking Over the President's Shoulder offers an inside scoop on the White House

It's hard to imagine a person less eager to get into the White House than Alonzo Fields, narrator of Theatre in the Square's one-man show Looking Over the President's Shoulder. Played by Barry Scott, Fields claims early on that he never sought the position of White House butler, even though he eventually served at the U.S. president's residence for 21 years and four administrations. "I didn't want to be a domestic. I wanted to be an artist," he says, but the Great Depression forced him to take the job in 1931.

Looking Over the President's Shoulder suggests that serving the president of the United States became Fields' art form. Adapted from Fields' memoir and directed by Gary Yates, the production dusts off entertaining but essentially harmless anecdotes from Fields' time serving Hoover, FDR, Truman, Eisenhower and their families. From the perspective of chief butler, Fields not surprisingly focuses on how the presidents ate, drank and entertained, and reveals the true feelings behind the staff's impassive expressions.

Hoover preferred punctual formality, the Roosevelts ignored fancy protocol in favor of crowded, raucous gatherings, and the Trumans exuded warmth and respect (one gets the impression Fields didn't get to know Ike as well as the others). Scott lapses into plummy impressions of the White House's famous occupants and guests, giving Eleanor Roosevelt a whinnying laugh. He provides a particularly amusing take on Winston Churchill, but the impressions seem inessential. Scott has such presence and commanding diction that his one-man show almost resembles an evening with Sidney Poitier. The funny voices make him sound like he's trying too hard.

Looking Over the President's Shoulder discusses the slow progress of the Civil Rights Movement in the first half of the 20th century as well as challenges of enduring hard times, including an economic slump and a world war. After Pearl Harbor, Fields overhears an FDR adviser say, "We can fall back as far as Chicago!" if Japan invades the U.S. mainland. Like most biographical plays, it offers a CliffsNotes version of a person's life, and, ironically, the audience provides the show's most powerful idea. In Fields's time, virtually the only way an African-American could get inside the Oval Office was as a domestic. The current election proves how much times have changed.

Looking Over the President's Shoulder Through Nov. 9. $22-$33. Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 and 7 p.m. 11 Whitlock Ave., Marietta. 770-422-8369. www.theatreinthesquare.com.

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