On Sunday, mi enamorata and I made a madcap day-trip to New York to view some one-act plays at the Founders’ Festival at the Metropolitan Playhouse on the Lower East Side. The Festival features eight plays in repertory through this Sunday, all about some aspect of the nation’s Founding era. Though we managed to see three shows in a seven-hour stretch, we were really drawn by the lure of Your Colonel, about the young Aaron Burr.
Your Colonel is the first installment of an almost inconceivably ambitious cycle of nine Burr plays intended by the playwright, Montgomery Sutton. With a young man’s audacity, Sutton has resolved to capture the founding of the nation through the sometimes-jaundiced and ambivalent eyes of Colonel Burr — the slayer of Hamilton, the dark figure of the tie vote with Jefferson in the 1800 election, and the semi-deluded dreamer of my own American Emperor.
Sutton’s concept is that he will create nine one-act plays that can be performed as stand-alone pieces, or as three separate three-act plays, or as a full nine-play cycle. Someone who dreams that big is near to my heart.
And how was the play? Rather good. The story cleverly places Burr in the household of General Israel Putnam in the weeks before the disastrous battle of New York, a period when the 20-year-old Burr definitively alienated General George Washington — a bad career move, that.
The centerpiece is Burr’s alleged wooing of Margaret Moncrief, the daughter of a British officer, which is blended with his other romantic escapades, his reckless military style, and conflict with Washington. Sutton presents a multi-faceted Burr; good and bad; idealistic and manipulative; a charismatic intriguer. Patches of dialogue were nearly pitch-perfect in capturing the irreverent charm of a man who fascinated all and troubled many. The story has a twist, some solid character develpment, and real promise. It’s well worth checking out.
This first production also is fortunate to have Chris Ryan portraying Burr. He brought the dazzle and the roguish qualities that seem to have dripped from Burr.
After the show, Sutton emphasized to me that revisions will begin immediately, and will doubtless address the occasional anachronistic phrase. I hope it also will expunge the fictional Burr’s jarrying practice of addressing General Washington as “George.” He was usually called “your excellency”; those close to him called him “the General.” He was a pal to no man, certainly not to a 20-year-old subordinate. And another bit of unsolicited advice might be to dial back, just a bit, the squabbling and starry-eyed Putnam sisters.
As for the other two shows we took in at the Festival, the report is less positive. Zero Boy presented Revolt! Death! and Taxes, an unexpectedly learned exigesis on Samuel Adams and the run-up to the Lexington and Concord in 1775. Though Zero Boy is an appealing performer, with the coolest silver-spangled shoes I have ever seen, the show was, well, work. I do history for a living and I found it a bit dense.
My First Lady imagines a tea party among Abigail Adams, Martha Washington, Dolley Madison, and the Jefferson daughters at the 1801 inauguration of President Thomas Jefferson. It’s a clever idea, but wanting in execution. The ladies mouth lines that were never thought much less said, the dialogue often demeans them, and the production carries the reek of 21st-century sitcoms. The cast worked hard, and I admired the efforts of Karla Hendrick to breathe life into the script’s one-dimensional version of Mrs. Madison, but we were relieved when the play ended.