43 Plays for 43 Presidents

During its two and a quarter hours, director Paul Plunkett's splendidly varied and imaginative production offers 43 two-minute plays, each about one of our fine (or, very occasionally, fiendish) presidents. As one might expect, the plays differ in style and mood — some are surreal, some biographical, some comedic — and they offer an equal variety of tones, ranging from straightforward respect to cool irony and genuine pathos.

The collection of plays (written by Andrew Bayiates, Sean Benjamin, Genevra Gallo, Chloë Johnston, and Karen Weinberg, members of Chicago's Neo-Futurists theatre collective) provides what is essentially a living advanced placement U.S. history class, albeit one that is more entertaining than what you'll find in your old high school textbook. The plays avoid cheap shots, approaching the subject matter with respect but a singular lack of reverence.

Of course, the most important prezzies are represented, including a wise, stoical George Washington (Michael Holmes), who tries to set a gracious tone for his administration but who watches with horror as his less-virtuous successors battle for ownership of his symbolic coat. There's a sad-faced and glacial Abraham Lincoln (Constance Ejuma), who turns into a monument before our eyes, while other members of the cast intone lists of the dead who perished during the Civil War.

As far as our modern era's rogue's gallery of leaders and reprobates is concerned, Richard Nixon ("One Nixon, Underdog") is showcased by a series of actors who discuss the reasons Nixon was a good president after all — while sneaking through the audience, stealing people's wallets and handbags. George H.W. Bush (Kelley Hazen), in "Promises," is an easygoing hip-hop scoundrel, while Bill Clinton (a spot-on impersonation by Holmes) genially oversees the destruction of American liberalism.

Admittedly, a few of the short plays amount to little more than living political cartoons, but others are fully developed, suffused with drama and humor. The six-person ensemble shines throughout, assaying the beloved, as well as the "B-string," presidents (such as Scott Leggett's amusingly dim Van Buren and creepy waltzing Holmes as a bloodthirsty Polk) with skill and gusto.

Presented by and at the Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., Hollywood. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m. (Also Sun. 7 p.m. Oct. 26.) Sep. 19-Oct. 26. (310) 281-8337. www.sacredfools.org.