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WHAT part of national reading of political play

Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater will be one of two Massachusetts theaters participating tonight in a national series of free public readings of the new stage adaptation of “It Can’t Happen Here” — a story that may sound familiar to those following the current American elections. The free reading of the adaptation of the 1935 Sinclair Lewis novel begins at 7 p.m. at WHAT, 2357 Route 6.

Written during the rise of fascism in Europe, Lewis’ dark satire, according to WHAT, “follows the ascent of a demagogue who becomes president of the United States by promising to return the country to greatness. Witnessing the new president’s authoritarian tyranny from the sidelines is a liberal, middle-class newspaper editor from Vermont who is caught in the chaos of social upheaval.”

The national readings are connected to a production by Berkeley Repertory Theatre in California, which was adapted by Tony Taccone, Berkeley Rep’s artistic director, and screenwriter Bennett S. Cohen.

“Lewis’ novel reads like it was ripped out of today’s headlines,” says Taccone in a press release. Whether he’s describing the politician or journalist, “Lewis’ understanding of our political system was precise and far-reaching.”

The play was first adapted by Lewis himself in 1936 under the auspices of the Federal Theatre Project, and theaters across the country then opened productions on the same night, according to WHAT officials. Tonight’s readings commemorate the 80th anniversary of that undertaking.

“Critics in 1935 called the book ‘a message to thinking Americans,’ and that is exactly whom we are hoping to reach with this national initiative,” says Susan Medak, Berkeley Rep managing director, in the release. “We are grateful to the Sinclair Lewis estate for supporting this project and sharing our vision of bringing this compelling and important work to as broad an audience as possible in this eventful season.”

Information on WHAT: 508-349-9428,

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