WELCOME TO The opening show of Trinity Repertory Company’s 2019-20 Season. We are beyond thrilled to be presenting George Brant’s The Prince of Providence as our first offering this year. We know that it is only the first of many local stories that will grace our stages in years to come. After all, Rhode Island is a dramatic place to live.
The title for the play, and its direct inspiration, come from Mike Stanton’s seminal, exhaustively researched, documentary account of Vincent “Buddy” Cianci’s tenures as mayor of Providence. (I say “tenures,” of course, because Buddy resigned after pleading nolo contendre to felony assault in 1984 and then was re-elected mayor in 1990.) Many in our audience lived through those years, and a simple recount of the facts would be redundant at best for them. What I love about Brant’s adaptation is how theatrical it is, how sweeping and poetic… ultimately, I love how Shakespearean it is.
Now, theater people throw that description around all the time, and it can make audiences feel tired when they hear it. Bear with me. I mean Shakespearean in the sense that George has taken historical facts and an enormously compelling historical figure and created a brilliant drama that is its own invention. Just like Henry V, Brant’s Buddy is grappling with leadership and impossible political situations. Like King Lear, he makes bold, brash choices, without thinking about the long term consequences. Like Macbeth, he trusts his instincts and follows them fiercely to power. But like all of those colossal Shakespearean heroes, he is ultimately only human, which is what makes the play a play, and not a docudrama.
Brant also performs another suave, philosophical turnabout in his play. He shows us Buddy Cianci’s story not as a finger-wagging cautionary tale, nor as an exercise in hagiography to extol the virtues of an important historical figure. No, Brant wants us to consider our part in Buddy’s tenure in the city of Providence. After all, Buddy was elected mayor of Providence on six separate occasions. Elected, not appointed. If we are Providence, and Buddy is part of our history, then who are we?
That is what makes it such a breathtakingly American tale, one that’s filled with stories of ambition and power and hubris. An American tale that has been played out in our political arena time and time and time and time again. Providence, therefore, could stand in for any American city, or for America herself. With our vaunted ambition for more as the pinnacle of success in this country, is it any wonder that such a story keeps happening to us? What we value is reflected in the values of our leaders, whether we like it or not.
Director Taibi Magar and her brilliant design team have put us right in Providence’s City Hall, with period costumes (yes, the ’70s and ’80s are period now) and pitch perfect music to tell this incredible, local tale. I know you will be swept away by a story that could only come from right here in Little Rhody, and our great capital city of Providence. I can’t wait to discuss the play with you in the months to come. And, as always, I look forward to seeing you at the theater.