Theater- It Can’t Happen Here: Or Maybe It Can

On October 24, 2016, 2 weeks before Election Day, we attended a local staged reading of the play It Can’t Happen Here, based on the 1936 novel by Sinclair Lewis. The novel, and the play, describe the rise and rule of a charismatic, dogmatic, conservative politician who is eventually elected president. He promises a return to traditional values, but reneges on his promises soon after he takes office, turning the country into a totalitarian regime within a period of a few months. Anyone who doesn’t offer complete, unquestioning loyalty to the new regime is imprisoned or executed.

This may sound like a drastic scenario, something that “can’t happen here,” but Lewis wrote the novel originally because he was watching this very thing happen in Nazi Germany at the time. The original stage adaptation was created the following year. The 1983 TV miniseries V, about an alien invasion, was also based on It Can’t Happen Here (as was the later reboot series). V’s creator, Kenneth Johnson, was inspired by Lewis’ work, but the network executives at NBC thought the story would be more interesting if the American fascists from the book were turned into aliens for TV.

When you hear, or read, the story, the parallels to Donald Trump’s rise to the presidency and his policies are unavoidable. A new stage adaptation of It Can’t Happen Here was recently written and produced by the Berkeley Repertory Theatre in California. They organized a series of nationwide, free, public readings in October, which included the one we attended. The program from Berkeley Rep’s fall production of the play has a few interesting articles about Sinclair Lewis, how the novel and play came to be written, and the state of global politics in the 1930s. The situation was frighteningly similar to the one we find ourselves in now.

We’re sharing an audio recording of the play, because we think it has an important message that deserves a wider audience. The characters in the play stay complacent until it’s too late, thinking that things won’t get any worse. It’s human nature to think It Can’t Happen Here. But, as Sinclair Lewis saw happen in Nazi Germany, sometimes it can, and does.

As a side note, this production was performed at one of our local theater venues. Those who make their living through live performing arts at all levels, whether they’re on stage or behind the scenes, are struggling right now, as are the theater companies themselves. If you listen to this recording or download the program, please consider making a donation to support your local live performing arts community. Or do yourself and a performer a favor and buy a ticket to one of the many live Zoom shows performers and theater companies are putting on to raise funds.

It Can’t Happen Here Act 1

It Can’t Happen Here Act 2

It Can’t Happen Here: The Berkeley Rep Magazine Issue #1 2016-17 – PDF