He's been bus driver Ralph Kramden, slovenly sportswriter Oscar Madison in "The Odd Couple," King Henry II in "The Lion in Winter. " He's portrayed Julius...

Share story

He’s been bus driver Ralph Kramden, slovenly sportswriter Oscar Madison in “The Odd Couple,” King Henry II in “The Lion in Winter.”

He’s portrayed Julius Caesar, Benjamin Franklin, Tevye, Willy Loman, Alfred P. Doolittle, Genghis Khan, Captain Hook and Scrooge. He’s also been the faces of Heidelberg beer and Great American RV.

Who’s Rick May this week?

Theodore Roosevelt, our 26th president. He will play T.R. in “Bully!” on Saturday, Sunday and Monday at the Wade James Theatre in Edmonds.

The approximately one-hour show is the first of the Driftwood Players’ Alternative Stages productions and will include a dessert buffet afterward.

Thanks to David McCullough and Edmund Morris, two of Roosevelt’s biographers, we have a fuller portrait of the man most know from exclamations such as “Bully!” and the motto “Speak softly and carry a big stick.”

“Bully!”


What: Rick May starring as Theodore Roosevelt in a one-man show written by Jerome Alden and directed by Ann Arends.

When: 2 p.m. Saturday, 7 p.m. Sunday and 8 p.m. Monday.

Where: Wade James Theatre, 950 Main St., Edmonds.

Tickets: $10 at the door or the box office, 425-774-9600. Admission includes a post-play dessert buffet.

Information: 425-774-9600 or www.driftwoodplayers.com.

The president was easy to visualize: clenched teeth, Roughrider hat, wire-rim glasses. But his character was far more subtle and challenging.

Roosevelt was not only a man of action, one of our most physically active presidents, but a man who took office under difficult circumstances. He was only 42 when William McKinley was assassinated and he became president, serving from 1901 to 1909. He took firm leadership, delivering a visionary State of the Union speech in December 1901.

Roosevelt achieved much in his nearly eight years in office. He negotiated a treaty to build the Panama Canal, created the U.S. Forest Service, built up the Navy, supported laws for safe food and drugs, brokered a treaty that ended the Russo-Japanese War in 1905 and cut the national debt by $90 million.

He harbored contrasting traits: a “big stick” advocate who won a Nobel Peace Prize; a pro-business Republican who was a strong consumer advocate and proffered the Square Deal, a living wage for American workers. He was an intellectual — a book-a-day reader who authored 35 books and helped found the American Institute of Arts and Letters. He was an adventurer who hunted big game in Africa.

He was a father of six children, a widower who found happiness in his marriage to his second wife, Edith.

For this production, May has condensed Jerome Alden’s play into a taut piece that goes back and forth in time, capturing a kaleidoscopic view of the man before, during and after his presidency. He tried out the show last summer at a lawyers convention in Winthrop, Okanogan County.

“I was scared to bloody death,” he said.

“The more I know him, the more I admire him, and the more I feel really responsible to represent him, as an actor and as a historian in some respects.”

Though May has taken out topical political speeches — “who wants to hear about the coal barons in 1905?” — he has kept what’s relevant today.

“Although the show is not political, it speaks for itself,” he said. “The play starts out where he’s leading all his ‘Kitchen Cabinet’ through a tramp in the woods at Sagamore Hill. [There is] some terribly funny stuff where he [nearly] kills them. You see these people in his mind’s eye.”

The other characters are unseen, brought to life by May in his audiences’ imaginations.

“Everything appears through T.R.,” May said. “He sometimes talks to the audience. Sometimes he segues into a scene that’s happening, and it’s so smooth and so nicely done, you’re seeing it happen.”

May, who grew up in Canada and Seattle and lives in Kirkland, has more than 300 productions to his credit, including “The Gin Game,” “Born Yesterday” and Harry Chapin’s musical “Cotton Patch Gospel.”

May also has run theaters, starting with the U.S. Army in Tokyo, where he coordinated USO shows and ran his post’s performing-arts stage. Locally, he has had a turn running companies as wide-ranging as the Renton Civic Theatre and Civic Light Opera. He helped introduce British playwright Alan Ayckbourn to Snohomish County audiences with the 1982 Driftwood production of “Bedroom Farce.” It marked May’s return to stage after a number of years away from theater. Over the years, he also taught acting and directed.

On screen, he was a dead ringer for Jackie Gleason as Ralph Kramden in a series of Heidelberg beer ads on TV in 1986, and he has had scenes in the George Lucas movie “American Graffiti” and other films. He has done voices for video games, such as “Star Fox Adventures” and the “Age of Empires” series. Great American RV hired him as a spokesman in commercials.

Though May’s fame has been largely regional, “I am so lucky,” he said. “I have played most of the major really good parts in my career.”

Diane Wright: 425-745-7815 or dwright@seattletimes.com