Written by Alina Mae Wilson
As we approach our annual time of summer patriotism, I find myself hard pressed to name shows that are appropriate for the season. American politics is often a heated subject and an exhausting constant in the United States. When it comes to arguing about it, the most enthusiastic debaters often resort to invoking the founding fathers. “Our founding fathers fought for freedom, therefore…!” Now with the 4th of July drawing nearer, it seems only fitting to watch a play featuring these historic men. For anyone staying in the New York area sometime soon, I hear good things about Hamilton. Although it’s currently easier to get into the Pearly Gates while still living than it is to get into that show. For us west coasters there is a smaller, less lavish musical to attend about that time period– 1776, playing over at the Newport Theatre Arts Center.
The year is 1776. The month is May. The main man is John Adams, the “obnoxious and disliked” delegate from Massachusetts, who, we soon find, is irate that his congressional fellows do not share his enthusiasm for a political separation from England. With the help of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Richard Henry Lee, Adams sets out to overcome the opposition and win American independence.
With a cast of 26, the stage is almost always carrying its full capacity, and a wide range of talent is visible throughout the performance. It’s true there are a few actors not pulling their weight as far as realistic expressions go, but for the most part the acting is acceptable. In the cast there are a few definitive gems that deserve recognition. Bradley Miller is ornery and impatient as our leading man John Adams, but some of the show’s most sincere moments come when he is corresponding with his wife Abigail, played sweetly and softly by Allison McGuire. David Colley plays Benjamin Franklin as the wise and cheerful sage of the group. But the person who captures the gaze in his every moment onstage is one of 1776’s villains . David A. Blair is absolutely dastardly as the South Carolina delegate Edward Rutledge. He is repulsive in the best way possible. I wanted to smack this smirking little toad at every instant. From the way he carried himself to the way he spoke, it was evident before Blair opened his mouth that this Rutledge person was meant to be perceived as slime. He was poised, conceited, and disgustingly confident. To put it plainly, I could not take my eyes off of him.
The best word to describe the set is “clunky.” Scene changes are far too audible to be considered graceful. Fortunately for us in the audience, these scene transitions are rare. The story takes place either inside or outside, and after one or two furniture adjustments the stage stays still. Contrary to what is expected, the most interesting parts of 1776 all take place when the men are seated in Congress. There is of course some movement from here and there, but the excitement comes from what is said to whom and why and not at all from the “action.” This is not the kind of show that keeps you on the edge of your seat. After all, we know how history turns out. But the debates held between each of these political figures prove to be interesting as well as educational, even if there are a few liberties taken.
The music is suitable for the time period, but there is hardly a toe tapper on the list. My favorite song is “The Lees of Old Virginia,” but that’s more because of Ross Wolfarth’s charm as the relentlessly optimistic Richard Henry Lee. Wolfarth is the funniest part of the entire show.
A decent set, some great costumes, and a few actors that can really get the job done, but the music is forgettable, and the plot itself is bland when not focused on mighty Congressional moments.
May 27th-June 26th