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The American Revolution

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

The Inverse Theater knows you couldn't pick a better time of the year for a play celebrating American independence, and it's true that much of the enjoyment to be derived from their play, The American Revolution, comes from the relatively close proximity of July 4.

But The American Revolution is not your standard tribute. While the overall effect is one designed to make you appreciate the hard-won fight for independence from the British, the route there is more circuitous and creative. Author Kirk Wood Bromley has written the play in the style of a Shakespearean play, complete with ample verse sections, musical interludes (composed by Noah Masterson), and other traditional Shakespearean fixtures.

Bromley's accuracy at embracing a traditional form seriously is refreshing. Never does he resort to commenting externally or winking at the audience to let them in on the joke. The American Revolution is the real deal; a real play with real characters, real depth, and real drama. Bromley never takes the easy way out, almost certainly the right choice in presenting a story of such great importance to so many in the United States.

But of perhaps greater surprise is Bromley's focus on many aspects of the American Revolution that are so often overlooked. Though George Washington does appear (played by Alan Benditt), he's a more minor character. The American Revolution spends a great deal of time dealing with the point of view of the soldiers under Washington's command (generally the low comedy characters), the impact of the French and the Hessians, and the seductive allure of the British. Benedict Arnold (Joshua Spafford), who planned to turn West Point over to the English, is a central figure in the piece, his struggle perhaps the most important in the play.

Bromley's script is not without its problems. It is, at times, uneven, his attempts at writing for the low comedy minutemen and buffoonish royalty less successful than some of the stunning verse passages he develops for Washington or Arnold. While he also glosses over some important events (such as the drafting of the Declaration of Independence, though it is included on the back of the program), overall the script is strong, and the play is well directed by Howard Thoresen (who appears briefly as John Adams), who always keeps the intent of the moment clearly in focus.

The unquestionable standout of the cast is Spafford, who imbues his Benedict Arnold with all the layers one would have every right to expect from a Shakespearean (or Greek) tragic figure. In fact, those close to him is particularly good, with Billie James as his wife Peggy, and Matt Daniels as Major John Andre, who coerces him away from his American loyalty, also giving very good performances. While Thoresen's John Adams is good, Benditt is somewhat lacking in the charisma it seems Washington would need to pull off such an unlikely gambit. Hank Wagner sings and plays the guitar well, but is occasionally too broad and distracting as John Freeman, one of the soldiers under Washington's command.

Central Park (or the La Plaza Cultural Garden for the special benefit performance on July 4), provides an effective expansive playing area for the show. Karen Flood's costumes provide necessary accents, but the outdoor atmosphere is vital to the nature of the play. If the script or performances at times feel a bit broad, it's appropriate here, and it works well. How the show might play if confined by walls or a proscenium arch is another issue.

Still, The American Revolution has its share of intelligence, heart, and humor, and not at all a bad choice for a couple of hours of thoughtful entertainment on days when, even if it's a theater, it may just be too nice to be indoors.

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Inverse Theater Company
The American Revolution
Through July 7
On the lawn below the Dairy in Central Park
Free Admission
(Special Benefit performance July 4 at La Plaza Cultural Garden at 9th Street and Avenue C)
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 10 minutes with no intermission