Review by David Walters

“Good Evening:   This is a special night for me.  Exactly three years ago, on July 15, 1976, I accepted the nomination of my party to run for president of the United States.  I promised you a President who is not isolated from the people, who feels your pain, and who shares your dreams, and who draws his strength and his wisdom from you.”

Those are not words you’re going to hear from any politician in office today.  But in 1979, that’s how Jimmy Carter began a deeply heartfelt speech to the American people that had the possibility to change the course of where this country would go.  In retrospect, it was a crossroads that ended up being a road not taken that we are suffering from today.

On July 5th of that year, with gasoline in short supply creating long lines at gas pumps, Carter was set to give yet another (his 5th) speech about the energy crises the country was experiencing.  He felt what his people had typed up for him to say was dishonest, “I just don’t want to bullshit the American people,” and so he canceled the timeslot and went to Camp David for ten days in order to come up with a way to say honestly what he felt needed to be said.

“It’s clear that the true problems of our nation are much deeper– deeper than gasoline lines or energy shortages, deeper even than inflation or recession.  And I realize more than ever that as President I need your help. So, I decided to reach out and to listen to the voices of America.”

During those ten days, he brought in government leaders, religious leaders, business leaders, the average worker, regular folks and took two trips to people’s homes to talk to them about what they were experiencing and their thoughts on how to move forward.

Confidence (and The Speech), now playing at Theater Row on 42nd Street, reaches back to that pivotal moment in history and lays out very clearly where we were and where we could have gone but didn’t.  It was the beginnings of awareness of climate change, a push for women’s rights and an opportunity for Americans to actually come together and work for a better America. With nine actors playing the historical characters it lays out the conundrum of the moment and rings a clear, call to action bell from the past to awaken us to the problems we face today.  And in keeping with that important message, the second page of the program lists 18 ways for you to get involved today and “Let your voice be heard.”  All very admirable, timely and important.

Unfortunately, Confidence doesn’t have full confidence in its subject matter and gets diluted with several simultaneous plot points and a theatrical gimmick (which are themselves important and obviously mean a lot to the playwright), that become stories and distractions onto themselves, detracting from the main focus of the play which is a country in crises standing at a crossroads and a good man doing his best to lead it down the right path.  

God bless actors when they’re asked to do nonsensical things and they commit to it 100%.  April Armstrong and Zach Fifer go above and beyond, immerse themselves in the playing and come out of it on the other end still smelling good.

I can’t urge you to run out and see this play, but I can urge you to take the time and listen to Carter’s speech here, what he is saying and what he is laying out in a vision for a future for the United States.  It is inspiring in that he is not giving anything away for free, but is sounding a trumpet and truly asking everyone to join together to make America great again, not with and for only a few, but with and for us all.

Confidence (and The Speech) written by Susan Lambert Hatem; directed by Hannah Ryan

With: Ross Alden, April Armstrong, Sarah Dacey Charles, Mark Coffin, Zach Fifer, Abigail Ludrof, James Penca, Imran Sheikh, Stephen Stout

Scenic Design by Brittany Vasta, Costume Design by Vanessa Leuck, Lighting Design by Christina Watanabe, Sound Design by Emma Wilk

November 14 – December 7

Running time: 1 hour 25 minutes

Theatre Row – Theater One
410 West 42nd Street