Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker has structured the play to be performed in presentational style by nine actors of various ages and races. They periodically address the audience and shift from one character to another with the help of minimal costumes (designed by Ivania Stack) and abstract pieces of scenery (by Milagros Ponce de Leon). Director Nataki Garrett does her best to bring continuity out of the script's contradictions.
The story begins with a group of English Quakers and one German, Carl Christian (Michael Halling), as they sail to the New World in the mid-1700s. They settle in Maryland, where Carl Christian's son Christian (Christopher Dinolfo) learns shoemaking from his father. He wants to join the revolutionary effort, angering his pacifist family, but promises that he will never carry a gun or otherwise spill another person's blood.
This is the kind of story where, no sooner does Christian arrive in Williamsburg, Virginia, he encounters his hero Thomas Jefferson (Halling). More importantly, he becomes friendly with Susannah (Felicia Curry), an enslaved woman who works at the tavern where he is staying. (The script includes such lines as "If liberty is a fever, I want to catch it" and "Please don't interrupt Patrick Henry.")
Wertenbaker's tone is uneven: she tries to depict the horror of war even as the actors announce after intermission that they were making their way through the Revolution while the audience members enjoyed their drinks. After the war ends, Christian makes his way to Monticello, where he becomes a surrogate son to Jefferson and gets to know Sally Hemings (Kathryn Tkel), the enslaved half-sister of Jefferson's late wife, and her brother James (Michael Kevin Darnall).
In another odd juxtaposition, while various historic figures explain how the U.S. Constitution came to value slaves as three-fifths of a citizen for census purposes, James Madison (Thomas Keegan) is portrayedapparently for comic reliefas a nervous boy overshadowed by his domineering mother (Kimberly Gilbert).