Carol’s Culture Corner: FIFTEEN MEN is “directed flawlessly”

Fifteen Men In A Smoke-Filled Room is about Warren G. Harding, our country’s 29th President, and written by Colin Speer Crowley. In 1899, prior to his becoming President, Harding was elected to the Ohio State Senate and was the most popular Republican in Ohio. He became the lieutenant governor of the state, but failed to win the governorship. However, in 1915 he became a United States Senator from Ohio.

The play takes place in Chicago Illinois at The Congress Hotel (elegant design by Jeff G. Rack). It is Friday, June 11, 1920, during the time of the Republican National Convention. We find Warren G. Harding (David Hunt Stafford) being cajoled into becoming the presidential nominee of the Republican Party by his ambitious campaign manager, Harry M. Daugherty (John Combs). Harding has no interest at all in running for the office. His thoughts are more embedded into being able to spend more time with his mistress, Nan Britton (Sarah Walker) and their young daughter, whom he never sees.

Harding and his wife, Florence Kling Harding (Roslyn Cohn), seem rather cool with one another, but we discover more about her when she makes arrangements to meet with Daugherty in order to convince him not to try to force her husband into accepting the nomination. Florence insists that she has received an omen from a psychic alleging that he will die if he is elected. In her strong and pleading request to Daugherty, it is obvious that she loves her husband and strongly believes in the warning. Daugherty shows zero concern for Florence’s pleading.

We meet Nan when she shows up at the hotel to see Harding. When he tells her he is not interested in becoming the President of the United States and that he wants to give up the life he has in order to spend it with her and their daughter, she insists that he should run. There is no doubt that it is more important to her that he is a man of high rank and position.

The outcome of course, as we all know, is that Warren G. Harding did become the 29th President of the United States on March 4, 1921. He died of a heart attack on August 2, 1923, just 881 days after taking office! During his time in office he was quite popular, but he is actually considered one of the worst presidents in our country’s history, mostly for the fact that there were so many scandals during his tenure, including The Depot Dome. During the play a clever way of going through periods of Harding’s rein are divulged by a radio announcer (Roger K. Weiss).

Fifteen Men In A Smoke-Filled Room is directed flawlessly by Jules Aaron. A superb cast brings these historic characters to life. Roslyn Cohen is especially outstanding in her scene of angst that she shares with John Combs. An additional actor in the play is Kevin Dulude who plays two minor roles (Newspaper Editor/Waiter).