James Still, the writer, decided on a one person play for many reasons, “It was my instinct from the beginning to write this play for one actor. There is something exhilarating and exciting about watching one character tell his or her story.” Exciting and exhilarating indeed. With Dwight Mahabir at the helm of Still’s amazing script, Looking Over the President’s Shoulder is all of that and more.

This is the fourth production of the show for Dwight, and the Stage 3 incarnation is based on the original production directed by Richard Mann of RiffRaff Productions in 2009. On working with Mann, Dwight has nothing but praise.  “Being under the direction of Mr. Mann was akin to having a master class in theatre.”

Dwight Mahabir is a New York native. He began his acting career at the age on 9 studying acting with Stella Adler Acting School in Manhattan and voice with Dr Dino Anagnost, director of the Orpheum Chorale at the Lincoln Center for Performing Arts.  Just some of his credits include, The Me Nobody Knows, the Broadway and Chicago cast,Anything Goes, Oklahoma! and Finian’s Rainbow.  His film credits include The Education of Sonny Carson for Paramount, Law and Disorder for Columbia and Seeing Red for Cake Walk Productions.  Mr Mahabir can be seen in the the African American Shakespeare Company production of Euripides, Medea in March and Much Ado About Nothing in May.  He is also a member of the Screen Actors Guild.
What’s missing on Dwight’s resume?  Humility, he has it by the truckloads. Meeting him after his masterful performance, in the now empty house, standing on the very same stage where he had just so expertly brought Alonzo Fields to life, his first words:  “Did you notice where I messed up?  It just felt slow tonight.  You should have seen it last night.”

Actors, no matter how brilliant they may be, they never change.  And for the record, I’m certain no one in the audience thought the show ran slow.

Dwight is kind enough to sit for a few minutes after the show, we relax in Stage 3’s tiny makeup room, sitting on folding chairs at the counter in front of the large lighted mirror. “I first saw the show in San Fransisco about 13 years ago at the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, and I walked out of the theater saying,  I have to do this show.”

He secured the script in 2008 and pitched the idea of taking on Looking Over the President’s Shoulder to a local director and producer.  The first production ran for three weeks to critical acclaim at Townsend Opera Players’ Little Opera Hall in Modesto, and has also reprised in 2011 at the West Side Theatre in Newman, then Dwight performed it at the Gallo Center for the Arts for the Sankofa Theater Company this last summer to full houses.  “I love this show, and I’m in awe of Alonzo Fields, I would book this show everywhere and do it forever if I could.”

While not the original actor, there is a real feeling that the role could have been written for Dwight.  With his full and rich baritone the brief singing Dwight does as Alonzo shows his classical training bonafides, just like the real Alonzo Fields. “I do feel close to Alonzo,” Dwight admits, “I’ve been working on it for more than a decade, I even have the book from the original run, with the little .50 cent price tag up in the corner.”

The warmth Dwight feels for the man he’s played in four productions, comes through in his performance, and the way he speaks about the man.  “He’s just such a part of me now, I have so much respect for him.  For his dignity and his quiet charm.  He deferred his dream, much like I did for a big part of my life.   I’m sure he’ll never leave my heart.”

Once in a blue moon an actor gets a role like Alonzo Fields, and once in a blue moon, if you’re very, very lucky, you’ll be one to witness Dwight D. Mahabir bring that role to life. 
Looking Over the President’s Shoulder plays for one more weekend, and this is a do not miss limited engagement for anyone that loves history, the Presidents, and good theater. Reserve tickets now for at Stage 3 or call209 536-1778. Operations Manager Bev Woodland told TVS Monday, “The phone is really starting to ring, so call soon if you want tickets.”

Read more about Dwight's career and his journey that led him to the Valley, read How Modesto Revived My Acting Career at ZOCLO Public Square.

Once in a blue moon, if you’re lucky, you find yourself standing at the end of a performance, as if by command, clapping and laughing and crying all at the same time.  Well Saturday night, that blue moon was shining at Stage 3 and it shown on Dwight D. Mahabir, performing James Still’s one actor triumph,Looking Over the President’s Shoulder.

Stage 3, in Sonora, while not quite in the Valley, is a treasure in the Foothills, a unique regional black box theater with a charm well worth the short trip from cities like Stockton, Lodi or Manteca. ...
The house is nearly full.
Looking Over the President’s Shoulder is a one person play based on the real life experiences of Alonzo Fields who served four Presidents and their families in the white house from 1931 to 1953. The material for the play was culled from interviews with family members, private papers and diaries, and Fields’ book, My 21 Years in the White House, published by Crest Books in 1960. Though the book is mostly benign and in many ways a flattery to the four administrations Alonzo Fields served, a ban was placed on all books by domestics after the publication of My 21 Years in the White House.

Play opens door to White House History    
BY LISA MILLEGAN                                                                              April 11, 2009

Although the monologues can be dense at times and hard to follow, Mahabir keeps things interesting by varying the tone throughout. Sometimes he's serious, sometimes funny, sometimes angry. Through it all, he maintains an admirable dignity and strong sense of self.

As a bonus, we also get to hear his gorgeous singing (Mahabir is best known as a musical theater performer in this area).

Director Richard Mann gives Mahabir strong support with a production that includes a slide show of key historical moments and musical clips that set the era. Mann also designed the fine set, which features an elegant formal dining room.

It's too bad the show is at TOP's cramped Little Opera Hall, which has uncomfortable, hard seats. The small company really had no other option, as it doesn't have much money or a venue of its own. But this compelling show really deserves to be in the Gallo Center for the Arts' Foster Theater.

Mahabir is a top-notch artist with big-city talent, and any audience he'll lose because of the poor venue is a shame.

'Looking Over the President's Shoulder'

RATING: ***½

WHERE: Townsend Opera Players' Little Opera Hall, 611 H St., Modesto

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through May 3

RUNNING TIME: 2 hours and 15 minutes, including an intermission



Bee arts writer Lisa Millegan can be reached at 578-2313 orlmillegan@modbee.com.
Read more here: http://www.modbee.com/incoming/article3119331.html#storylink=cpy

'Looking Over the President's Shoulder' One-Man Play at the Gallo Center for the Arts July 12 - 14

Tickets are $10, $15 and $20, and may be purchased online at GalloArts.org, by calling (209) 338-2100, or at the Gallo Center ticket office, 1000 I Street in downtown Modesto.

“Looking Over the President’s Shoulder” is the true story of Alonzo Fields, who accepted a job as a butler at the White House in 1931. His plan was to work there for the winter, but that winter lasted 21 years. Based on the memoirs of the grandson of a freed slave who grew up in an all-black town in southern Indiana, the play shows how Fields is forced by the Depression to give up his dreams of becoming an opera singer and take the job at the White House, where he quickly was appointed Chief Butler and went on to serve four U.S. presidents and their families: Herbert Hoover, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower.

Reviewing a 2009 production of the play with Mahabir, held at the Little Opera Hall in Modesto, columnist Lisa Renner of the Modesto Bee noted that accomplished actor and musical theater performer is “an engaging storyteller who makes history come to life… Sometimes he's serious, sometimes funny, sometimes angry. Through it all, he maintains an admirable dignity and strong sense of self.”

" Life isn't about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself."
                                                                  George Bernard Shaw

 The relaxed nature of his delivery is most appealing.  I felt as if he was talking to me alone, revealing his own life story in a one on one, intimate sort of way.  His mimicking of the various Presidents and celebrities is masterful. The movement from dialogue to attending to the details of table side etiquette flows smoothly, seeming effortlessly.

Mr.  Mahabir,  in addition to his early association with the Stella Adler Acting Studio in Manhattan, studied voice with Dino Anagnost, director of the Orpheum Chorale at the Lincoln Center of Performing Arts.  His several musical interludes, including Ave Maria, reveal a luxurious, trained voice.  His dynamic performance brings to light a character whose quiet, reflective life offers an oasis of calm stability in the often turbulent and always changing times of the White House. This multi-talented actor will hold you enthralled from the bench outside the White House gates to his final day as head butler for First Families over twenty-one years.    

The set design and construction, by Greg Richards with David Merino, portray, simply, the pomp and protocol associated with the White House.  The special effects of sound and lighting by Antonio Morales and Milo Goehring deserve many kudos.  The perfect timing of the lighting, and the powerful impact of radio news recordings, and most importantly, the video/slide presentations such  as Roosevelt's funeral procession and Marion Anderson's performance in the East Room all enlighten and enrich the play.

Bringing this all together is no small task.  Sylvia Dombrosky and Steve Wayles are to be commended  for their "productive" skills.  This took special creative genius  to allow a complicated script to flow so smoothly.

Alonzo Fields asks the question familiar to most of us:  "Have I lived my life wisely?"  With characteristic simplicity, he concludes that serving is like music and that this was my art.

Modesto’s new African American theatre troupe, Sankofa Theatre Company, will team with the Gallo Center for the Arts to present “Looking Over the President’s Shoulder,” a one-man play written by James Still, directed by Richard Mann, and performed by Dwight D. Mahabir.

The production is coming to the Gallo Center for three performances, July 12 – 14. 

Did you know that President Herbert Hoover was extremely formal and hardly ever spoke?

That Franklin Delano Roosevelt was gregarious and debated policy with his adult children? That Harry Truman was friendly with all his servants? That Dwight D. Eisenhower was initially against integrating the military?

These are some of the tidbits you pick up in RiffRaff Productions' fascinating one-man show "Looking Over the President's Shoulder," now running at Townsend Opera Players' Little Opera Hall in downtown Modesto.

This is anything but a dry lecture on American history. Dwight Dean Mahabir, who plays Alonzo Fields, a real-life butler for the four presidents, is an engaging storyteller who makes history come to life.

Based on Fields' memoir, "My 21 Years in the White House," James Still's play offers a look at the country's presidents from the point of view of their staff.

It opens on Fields' last day of work as he is waiting for a bus to leave Pennsylvania Avenue. He recalls his early life growing up in a small town in Indiana, his time studying opera at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston and finally his entry into working as a butler for a rich family who hosted the Hoovers.

He was invited to work in the White House by Mrs. Hoover after his previous employer suddenly died.

It must be extremely difficult to remember more than two hours worth of lines and perform a show by yourself, but Mahabir makes it look easy. If he was struggling with the material, it didn't show at Saturday night's performance.

Politics never needed a loss of innocence.  But there is a certain strain of old-fashioned values which nostalgically colors this most recent presentation by the Rosarito Theatre Guild.   Looking Over the President's Shoulder is not only historical drama, but a penetrating look into the White House head butler, an African-American, and how he coped with life decisions stemming from the dire circumstances of the Great Depression.  The story of Alonzo Fields is less about racial justice than it is about an artist's struggle to survive. His dream was to perform in the opera, but the
Depression would dim that hope.

Fields only speaks when spoken to.  But his thoughts and insights into a range of issues from the unpredictable Eleanor Roosevelt to World War II are full of wisdom.  The butler's inner conflictcis somewhat overshadowed by the behind the scenes revelations of the First Families he attended to.  For those intrigued by First Family trivia, Looking Over the President's Shoulder affords fascinating glimpses into the dinner table routines of the Hoover's, Roosevelt's, Truman's and even briefly, the

A one-man show requires an actor who can capture and hold the audience's attention, single-handedly, for several hours. And Dwight Mahabir is more than up to the task.  The butler's stellar and conflicted life affords Mr. Mahabir  the opportunity to portray his subject with flawless dignity and polished grace.