Playing Politics

Playing Politics

Herb Brown

Photo: Matt Sullivan

Out of all U.S. presidential tickets, none may have been as dynamically and paradoxically charged as Dwight Eisenhower, a war hero drawn to the presidency out of a sense of duty, and Richard Nixon, the young senator fueled by ambition. At least that’s how Herb Brown ‘53 sees it, and that’s the story he tells in his play You’re My Boy, which premiered this October in Columbus as a production of Contemporary American Theatre Company (CATCO).

Brown was drawn to the story by the contrast between the two men, but more specifically by Nixon as an individual. “He’s most intriguing to me; for someone with his psychological problems to get that far is fascinating,” the playwright says. Despite the introversion and paranoia that Brown perceives in Nixon, he presents him as the protagonist–a skillful politician who played a greater role as VP than any of his predecessors, eager but ever unable to win the full trust and support of his president.

Photo: Yale Joel / Time Life Pictures / Getty Images

A self-described political junkie, Brown’s former lives include attorney, Ohio Supreme Court Justice, and member of the Ohio Ethics Commission, throughout which he earned a reputation for his political indifference. He stopped practicing law to take up the novelist’s pen, and has written two acclaimed books, Presumption of Guilt and Shadows of Doubt. You’re My Boy is his first full play, and the first new work to be produced by CATCO since 1996. Professor of Theatre Emeritus Jon Farris plays the role of Nixon mentor and party boss Thomas Dewey, and Associate Professor of Theatre Cindy Turnbull designed the costumes.

Having amassed a small library of research material, Brown attests that the play clings to historic underpinnings even though some dramatic license was required in the interest of theatrical effect and efficiency. If the following passage is any indication, the script is still enough to give us an insightful, comedic, and occasionally chilling look at this chapter in American history.

From Act II, Scene 1 of

YOU’RE MY BOY

EISENHOWER: What is it, Sherm?

CHIEF OF STAFF SHERMAN ADAMS: The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs did it again.

EISENHOWER: What?

ADAMS: Told the New York Times the French will be driven out of Vietnam unless we provide direct military support.

EISENHOWER: We are not going to do that. The jungles of Vietnam would swallow our troops. We’d stir up resentment everywhere in the Far East.

ADAMS: He doesn’t commit himself to troops. But says we should definitely provide air support. And he suggests atomic weapons.

EISENHOWER: Oh, Jesus Christ. Any time they have a problem with the Communists, the first thing these military geniuses think of is the bomb. We drop the bomb on Asians for the second time in a decade and my God–we’d turn the whole world against us.

ADAMS: Without our help, he says, the French will lose Vietnam.

EISENHOWER: Vietnam is a French colony. Colonies are occupations. Occupations provoke insurgencies and the Communists feed on that.

NIXON: There’s a further consideration, Mr. President. If the French lose Vietnam, it could encourage other takeovers in Southeast Asia.

EISENHOWER: Dick, I understand the domino theory as well as anyone.

NIXON: I know, Mr. President. But I believe it might be worthwhile to see if the Joint Chiefs think …

EISENHOWER: The Joint Chiefs think? Bring them in, Sherm. And the secretary of state as well as defense, army and navy. I speak for this administration and I’m fed up with people who can’t get that through their heads.

Published November 2020