It’s easy to grow jaded about the magic of Washington after a few years on a lease. Over time, lofty ideals and Sorkin-esque monologues have a way of being superseded by rent worries and Metro frustration. Landmarks like the Lincoln Memorial and the Supreme Court fade as inspirations and become places where visiting relatives drag you along on sweltering summer visits. The White House itself becomes an afterthought – another bad patch of traffic to avoid on your way to work.
One of the pleasures of At Your Service, Mr. President! is the way it rekindles the reminder that politics and the presidency can still conjure a sense of pride, and even a touch of magic, in those who work behind the scenes.
Alan DeValerio served as a White House butler throughout the 1980s, which afforded a unique glimpse into life at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue under Presidents Carter, Reagan, and Bush 41. The author of A History of Entertainment in the Modern White House, DeValerio reveals what the regal setting looks like from the perspective of the people pouring the wine and serving the dinners.
A Rhode Island native, DeValerio moved to DC in pursuit of a career in writing political humor. He still retains his love for a good zinger. “One event was so cold that I saw a Congressman with his hands in his own pockets!”
Working part-time as a banquet waiter for Senate events, DeValerio pulled strings with the help of his senator to land a try-out as a waiter for a White House event. After successfully securing a tuxedo on short notice, DeValerio was on his way to a full-time gig at the most prestigious address in the world.
At Your Service, Mr. President!
Written and performed by Alan DeValerio
Details and tickets
White House buffs and event planning enthusiasts alike will be enthralled by the detailed accounting of the logistics and preparation that go into coordinating a State Dinner. “At the White House, money is no issue,” DeValerio said. “Correction: YOUR money is no issue.”
We learn that it’s customary for guests to go home from events when the president turns in for the night – making the early to bed Reagans a blessing for staff. DeValerio recounts his time working for his boss Eugene Allen, later to inspire the trailblazing protagonist in Lee Daniels’ cinematic adaptation The Butler.
DeValerio indulges in plenty of name-dropping, highlighting a few of the many famous names he rubbed shoulders with – or at least served – during the Hollywood-friendly Reagan era. Famous faces included Johnny Carson, Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra – and a bathroom encounter with Bob Hope. DeValerio doesn’t drop any especially juicy bombshells, reporting that he saw very little drunken carousing among the glitterati. “The White House tends to bring out the best behavior in guests.”
Through it all, he makes clear the reverence with which he holds his memories of the experience, never ceasing to thrill at the memory of the President and First Lady descending the stairs to the strains of “Hail to the Chief”.
“It was a dream job,” he said. “Imagine going to work each and knowing that anyone in the world could be in your place of work that day.”
DeValerio’s pitch may be a bit more thrilling for audiences from other towns – places where folks don’t pretend to be unimpressed by all the White House trappings. His story, however, is a special look at history from a rarely seen perspective – a good reminder for burned out DC strivers of the sense of possibility that drove so many of them to come to Washington to begin with.