A practiced hand at solo performances, Laurence Luckinbill demonstrates his mastery of the form in his latest show, "Teddy Tonight!," a colorful evocation of the 26th President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt.
Luckinbill, who has already portrayed Lyndon Johnson and Clarence Darrow in one-man turns, wins over the audience when he first enters as himself and amusingly delivers the perfunctory admonitions about cell phones and photo-taking. He then proceeds to talk about the actor's need for transformation, and as he sits down at a table to get into his Roosevelt wig and mustache, he reflects on why he has chosen these "great Americans" as subjects, giving him the opportunity to explore "what does it mean to be an American." It's an engaging coup de theatre, and sets the stage for what follows; a briskly paced, deeply felt interpretation of Roosevelt's event-filled life and personality, and an entertaining, if necessarily sketchy, two-hour history lesson.
Luckinbill certainly says "Bully" a lot but moderates the blue-blood diction and gravely voice that often mark Teddy Roosevelt impersonations. Rather, he creates a giant-sized but recognizable human being who grows from a young man determined to overcome disabilities like asthma to a vigorous graft-fighting politician, war hero, devoted father and zealous White House occupant.
The narrative begins in 1918 as Roosevelt receives word that his youngest son, Quentin, a World War I pilot, has been shot down. This triggers T.R.'s recollections of his own life and finally causes him to question and to finally affirm his hawkish patriotism. It's an attitude that should register intensely with today's audiences, and whatever the response, heighten involvement with this iconic American.
Kim T. Sharp's knowing direction, James F. Wolk's flag-filled set, and David Castaneda's effective lighting admirably support Luckinbill's work as actor and writer.