Thursday, October 13, 2016

Waiting for a Pass on a Train

I go out thinking I'm having a ladies-who-lunch kind of a day.

You know, the kind of day where one woman drops an evocative bon mot such as, "All I know is he made a pass at her on a train," except it winds up being so much more than a girly lunch of salads and chocolate at Chez Foushee followed by a matinee.

First of all, how is it that I'd never seen the musical "1776"?

When I casually mentioned it last night, I was rewarded with a lyric sung to me from one of its songs and the intel that he who was serenading me once owned the soundtrack.

Even my date today, the former theater queen, knew little, asking me when she arrived if the play had been written in 1976, during that drawn-out Bicentennial celebration some of us lived through.

But, no, a bit of quick research revealed that it had been inexplicably written in 1969, the year of Woodstock and during the dark days of Vietnam.

That something so potentially corny and old-fashioned for the time went on to win three Tony awards only increased my amazement at knowing nothing about it.

All I can say is I'm wholly indebted to Virginia Repertory for choosing to stage such a compelling and informative piece of theater with a top-notch cast to bring me up to speed.

After three decades in the Commonwealth, my delight in all the Virginia references was immense.

So when the simple Richard Henry Lee says, "Why, hell! I'll leave right now if you like! I'll just stop off in Stratford long enough to refresh the missus and then straight to the matter," I have no problem conjuring up Stratford Hall, where we celebrated my mother's birthday a few years back.

"Refreshing the missus," now there's a phrase you don't hear often enough.

And when Benjamin Franklin, played masterfully by Jason Marks, explains away Lee's exuberance by saying, "They're a warm-blooded people, Virginians," it's laugh-out-loud funny to me.

Summing up how the British empire has stifled the colonists' spirit, Franklin's words, while straight out of 1969, could describe a whole lot of people at political rallies of today: "We've spawned a new race here, Mr. Dickinson. Rougher, simpler, more violent, more enterprising, less refined."

Just as of the eras - both the mid 1770s as well as the late '60s, that is - is John Adams (played to passionate and playful perfection by the inimitable Scott Wichmann) whose Puritanical roots blush to their core when he discovers that Jefferson intends to bed his wife before so much as writing the first word of the Declaration of Independence.

"Good god, you don't mean...they're not going to? the middle of the afternoon?" to which Franklin dryly informs him, "Not  everybody's from Boston, John."

Oh, and, by the way, they're a warm-blooded people, Virginians, so let's hear it for afternoon delight, shall we?

Looking exceptionally dandy in brocade and lace, Alexander Sapp as South Carolina's Edward Rutledge delivered a master class in staying in character, his pinky always elevated, his eyebrow conveying disdain, even the motion of sitting down repeatedly executed with the impeccable grace of a gentleman.

As far as the music went, his defense of slavery, "Molasses to Rum" was a show-stopper while it was tough to resist the charm of "The Lees of Old Virginia" - The FFV, the first family, in the sovereign colony of Virginia. And may my wife refuse my bed, if I can't deliver, as I said, the resolution on independency - as much for the mocking of Virginia pride as for the '60s emphasis on sex.

But easily the most currently topical song was "Cool, Cool Considerate Men" - We have land, cash in hand, self-command, future planned, Fortune flies, society survives, in neatly ordered lives with well-endowed wives - about the southern delegates' determination to move ever to the right, never to the left, because they won't risk losing the white male dominated way of life they've established.

Pshaw, such blind partisanship is both not cool and inconsiderate.

Truth be told, my main takeaway from the production was mortification at how little I knew (remembered?) about the Second Continental Congress and how central to the drafting of the Declaration of Independence John Adams was.

This is a revolution, dammit! We're going to have to offend SOMEbody!"

Ah, but Mr. Adams, we're still offending people. We could hardly help it given how much rougher, simpler, more violent, more enterprising and less refined we are.

Since 1776, forging ahead and in bed, it's practically the American way.

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