April 26, 2010

Pingree donning cabinet-size shoes in bipartisan benefit


WASHINGTON - As a mother of three living out on North Haven, U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree often found herself playing the role of stage mom.

A Broadway producer had retired to the island, and high school productions had became a much bigger deal as a result. Pingree's son Asa ended up studying drama in London, but she never thought she'd end up on stage herself.

Then a few months ago, the Shakespeare Theatre called her office to see if she would act in a benefit production starring politicians and other celebrities. She said "yes" with enthusiasm.

"I love the theater, but I never imagined I'd get to do something fun like this in the middle of being in Congress," Pingree said Saturday.

"The Play's the Thing!" opens -- and closes -- tonight in Washington. The script changes each year, but the idea for this annual event is the same: round up a bunch of politicians, dress them up and send them out on stage not to debate financial regulations, but to recite Shakespeare.

"It's half-fun, half-serious," Pingree said. She just got a script last week, and will rehearse for the first time today.

This year's "Will on the Hill" plot revolves around a president struggling to write his State of the Union address. With the big night nearing and no speech written, Cabinet members rally around the president and look to Shakespeare's plays for inspiration. Pingree has been cast as the secretary of labor, but says she has no plans to challenge Hilda Solis for the job.

"I'll be honored to wear her shoes for an evening," Pingree said, "although I think I get to wear a fancier costume than what she usually wears to work."

Joining Pingree on stage will be 13 other lawmakers, Hollywood actor Peter Jacobson (from the TV show "House"), and a handful of media types, including Major Garrett of Fox News and NPR's Nina Totenberg.

Although the event is billed as bipartisan, only two Republicans -- Sen. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana and Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi -- made the cast.

For Pingree, having a chance to do something fun with members of both parties was part of the draw.

"It's a way to have Republicans and Democrats do something fun together on-stage," Pingree said. "There's a lot of making fun of the political process. And of course, we'll be using the great words of Shakespeare to tell a story." 

Rebecca J. Ritzel is a freelance writer based in Washington.


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