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Published: 09.16.2004

Play aptly captures life and times of chief butler

By Kathleen Allen



 ● Invisible Theatre presents  James Still's "Looking Over the President's Shoulder" at 7:30 p.m. today,  Tuesday-next Thursday; 8 p.m. this Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m. Sunday  at 1400 N. First Ave. Tickets are $20-$22. Call 882-9721 for reservations  and more information.


Alonzo Fields had an enviable job: For 21  years and four presidents, he was a fly on the wall of the White House.  

He was a silent witness to the making of  history during a tumultuous time in our country - the Depression and World War  II.  

Fields was the first black chief butler for  the White House, starting his career there with Hoover and ending it with  Eisenhower.  

"Looking Over the President's Shoulder," which  Invisible Theatre opened Tuesday, is Fields' story. Playwright James Still  discovered Fields while researching another play. To write this piece, he  searched presidential libraries, pored over copious amounts of papers given to  him by Fields' widow, and visited the back stairs and rooms in which Fields  walked and worked at the White House.  

Walter Belcher made Still's work worth it. He  brought Fields to entertaining, deeply felt, light-hearted life in this Susan  Claassen- directed play.  

Fields' stint in the White House gave him  access to some momentous times. He was there when Roosevelt was in agony over  the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. He planned the menu when the king and  queen of England visited, saw to it that Winston Churchill got his regular shots  of Scotch, and stood up to actor Errol Flynn when he was drunk and rude.

 Fields didn't set out to be a butler. He was a  promising music student when the Depression hit and he was forced to take the  first job he was offered so that he and his family could survive.

 Belcher gave the man a quiet elegance, as well  as humor, grace and anger at the bigotry he experienced.

 And when Belcher sang "Ave Maria," it was easy  to understand why Fields' lifelong love was music, and to mourn the loss of a  great talent eaten up by the Depression.

 Holding the stage for nearly two hours without  any help from other actors is a feat. Belcher made it seem like an easy task.

 The script is a loving one. Still clearly  liked the character he was writing about. The story's telling details and  abundant charm make up for what it lacks in depth and nuance.

 ● Contact reporter Kathleen Allen at 573-4128 or


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