Play aptly captures life and times of chief butler
By Kathleen Allen
ARIZONA DAILY STAR
Alonzo Fields had an enviable job: For 21 years and four presidents, he was a fly on the wall of the White House.
● 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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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