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Founders Fest takes liberties, to plumb their depths
BY SCOTT STIFFLER | More memorable (and intriguing) than 1,787 years’ worth of history lessons, the Founders Festival bills itself as a “Theatrical celebration of the work of the founding fathers…and mothers.”
The eighth year of this Metropolitan Playhouse presentation offers eight works (most of them world premieres) by emerging artists — each one performed four times over the course of the festival. Several are complemented by readings of salient documents, and there’s a period-appropriate exhibition in the theater lobby featuring the work of six visual artists tasked with interpreting the American Dream.
Drawing from historical facts both well-known and largely forgotten — and inspired by their creator’s own speculative insights — the festival’s one-acts, solo shows, full-length adaptations, biographical fantasies and vignettes use the public and private lives of our founding fathers and mothers to question what it means to be civilized.
Asked how that compelling (if somewhat vague) declaration is translated from an exercise in cerebral contemplation to a fully realized production on the Metropolitan Playhouse stage, artistic director Alex Roe recalls that while assembling his roster of performers, the notion (and nature) of civility kept coming up.
“In contemporary culture,” Roe and his creative team pondered, “What passes for civilized behavior…and how do our judgments of civility find their roots, if not in the writings themselves, then in the norms established in our founding political documents?”
Dan Evans’ play “The Parchment Copy” tackles that question, by eavesdropping on the lives of eight leading patriots who gather at Benjamin Franklin’s Philadelphia home on the night before the Continental Congress reconvenes to sign the Declaration of Independence.
Within that oft-quoted (and liberally interpreted) document, Roe notes, “there are codes of civil and social interaction, either assumed or advised. Of Zero Boy’s show,” he says, “there’s a direct confrontation of the political and social assumptions of the Tea Party…derived from, and flying in the face, of an original rebel.”
“Revolt! Death! And Taxes!” takes you on a sonic journey from Boston to England — all in the service of peeling back the many layers of the man we modern Americans think of as a brand of beer (but who, the performer asserts, we should also know as a riot leader and a politician). Longtime East Village creative presence, cultural observer and “vocal cartoonist” Zero Boy gets more philosophical mileage out of a few sound effects than most writers can wring from 1,000 words — so it’ll be interesting to see how he uses his talents as a human audio reservoir to shed some light on Sam Adams.
Performed on the same bill as “The Parchment Copy,” the farcical melodrama “From Shore to Shore” has solo performer LuLu LoLo inhabiting the ghosts of Alexander Hamilton assassin Aaron Burr and his daughter, Theodosia Burr Alston, as they haunt the shorelines of Battery Park and South Carolina.
Aaron Burr makes another festival appearance, in “Your Colonel” — this time, in a plot which sees the vilified founder romancing the 15-year-old daughter of a British Major and escalating his longstanding beef with George Washington.
In “Civility,” The New York Neo-Futurists present 15 new plays based on George Washington’s Rules of Civility (accompanied by readings of letters exchanged between John and Abigail Adams). Lest you think brevity is a recipe for big questions to get the short shrift, consider that every Fri. & Sat. at 10:30pm (at The Kraine Theater, 85 E. Fourth St.), the NeoFuturists’ long-running, ever-evolving cult hit “Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind” tears through 30 plays in 60 minutes with all the precision, intrigue and thematic depth one expects from a traditional three-act arc.
“A Room in the Middle” concerns Shays’ Rebellion — a protest sparked by Massachusetts farmers who return from the Revolutionary War, only to find their homes in foreclosure. Pursued after their failed attempt to take the Springfield arsenal, three rebels are cornered in an abandoned farmhouse.
A tea party (not that late night one in Boston) becomes a battle zone where race, class and gender issues boil over, in “My First Lady” — featuring Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, Dolley Madison and Thomas Jefferson’s daughters (all of whom exchange pleasantries, at least at first, when they converge at the newly-opened President’s House).
“A Servant for Life” is another highly charged (and completely imagined) meeting of the minds, pitting conflicted slave owner Thomas Jefferson against Phillis Wheatley — a slave who earned her freedom though her poetry.
METROPOLITAN PLAYHOUSE PRESENTS:
THE FOUNDERS FESTIVAL
Daily, through January 27
At the Metropolitan Playhouse
220 E. 4th St. (btw. Aves. A & B)
For tickets ($18), call 800-838-3006 or visit metropolitanplayhouse.org