The American Revolution: history before your eyes
By Joey Maya Safchik and Judy Durkin
“History isn’t the whole story” chanted the actors in The American Revolution, Theatre Unspeakable’s remarkably relevant experimental theatre production. The one-act performance depicts the trials and tribulations that contributed to the emergence of the United States. While history is the foundation of this 50-minute theatrical spectacle, this is surely no 11th grade textbook-based lecture. People of all ages will find the performance endearing and educational.
With the energy of a polished and uniquely entertaining experimental high school theatre piece, the ensemble production merged physicality, vocalization, humor and… American history.
Performed almost entirely upon a rectangular wooden block, the seven actors transformed an intimate space into palaces and battlefields. The set is composed primarily of the actors’ bodies, clad in basic red Nike attire. The intricate direction by Marc Frost called for constant movement, showing off each performer’s flexibility (including an impressive long-lasting handstand from cast-member and former US National Champion gymnast Flora Bare) and athletic capability. The cohesiveness of the ensemble was a highlight of the production, and the cast’s chemistry was evident.
Each cast member played a crucial role, stepping into the shoes of dozens of founding fathers, influential Revolutionary women, soldiers and monarchs. An array of accents filled the intimate theatre. The devised script consisted of over-exaggerated Southern colloquialisms, to snobby British regaling of historical information, to appropriate modern anachronisms. With his brilliantly absurd British accent and flawless comedic timing, Thomas Wynne won the audience over with his rendition of the villainous King George. In her gender-bending performance as Governor Dinwiddie, Sarah Liken humorously embodied the prudent man, whose historical significance is not often discussed in classrooms.
Perhaps the most versatile performer was Rasell Holt, who played both general George Washington and his slave Billy Lee. Without much stage time as each character, Holt managed to take the audience on an emotional journey, providing a poignant contrast to the comedic production. In his speech as Billy Lee, he wonders why slaves were left out of Jefferson’s declaration that “all men are created equal.” This draws a connection to the Black Lives Matter movement of today, showing that, while America has come a long way from the Boston Tea Party, there is a great deal of work yet to be done.
Full of prime history-buff humor and extraordinarily accurate factual representations of our past, the play creates a welcoming environment for patrons to become in touch with their history.
United States History class periods at high schools are approximately one hour long. In that time interval, The American Revolution provides a stellar crash course on our nation’s birth.
The American Revolution by Maegan Fellner
The American Revolution cleverly combined pantomime and comedy to convey a crucial time period in the history of our country, bringing it to life for viewers young and old.
Each actor played a meaningful role in the story. The performers were clearly skilled in mime, and yet it took a few scenes for me to understand the symbolisms of their movements. Overall, the fast pace of the performance kept it going, and the witty humor locked me in.
The idea of portraying a key chunk of our history on such a small platform was ambitious, and pulled off well.
Although I felt as though all of the actors played integral parts in the production, I especially admired Thomas Wynne’s depictions of King George because of his overall acting style. He played a part that was goofy, yet really sold that without it being cloying.
I liked how the lighting was used to highlight the main character in the scene or convey an important mood. I feel that Rachel K. Levy, lighting designer, helped the story along greatly. I noticed a lack of music, which was a choice on the direction side of things, and I feel as though a couple of tunes could have added to the performance.
In my opinion, the actors used their facial expressions and improvisational flair to richly portray this interesting time in our history, not only within 50 minutes, but with a smile.
The American Revolution by Veronica McFarlane
“The American Revolution”, a show by Theatre Unspeakable at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, is a creative and a “fun for the whole family” show; I never thought I would see a reenactment of the American Revolution on a 21 square foot raised box. It’s a family friendly educational show and based on the laughter from the children in the audience, myself included, I would say it was definitely entertaining. I was expecting more of a dramatic play about war, but I was pleasantly surprised with the way the actors told these historical events in a new and fun way.
Each historical figure that the actors represented had its own animated character, and it made the show so fun, especially Thomas Wynne’s character, King George. It took two people to make that character, a careless king who just swims all day and is apparently really flexible. It was also easy to tell who was who, since some of the actors played different roles, like Rasell Holt, who played George Washington. But he was also a slave who wanted to be freed. That was a very powerful scene, because it showed both of his characters talking to each other, but as completely different people; a man who had freedom and a man who didn’t. As that scene was going on, you also had the whole cast moving around and lighting to highlight different things to create different settings and separate the two. So each person was useful, not one of them came off the stage. There was also singing and music added into the show as well. Some of it was just fun and random, they even managed to add “The Addams Family” theme song and finger snaps! Most of the singing added made the war scenes at the end of the play very powerful and inspiring in a way. The show itself wasn’t long, only 50 minutes, which kept the story going and kept the audience so entranced that we didn’t even notice there wasn’t an intermission.
All the actors worked great as a team, and you could really tell they were all having fun with each other. All cracking jokes and being sassy at times; which you wouldn’t expect in this play. They all worked hard to create the setting with their own bodies, and the sounds with their own mouths. One scene that really stood out to me was when George Washington crossed the Delaware River. Everyone was used as masts, rows, flags, and it included George Washington’s famous pose. I kept thinking that the actors must really trust each other, because if only one person was off then they would all fall since they were balanced on each other’s bodies so carefully.
I was able to meet some of the cast members after the show and they were very kind and eager to talk about their production and told me how they all have studied the teachings of Jacques Lecoq. The theater program has a great article with the Director, Marc Frost that explains this type of acting as “a living comic book” - the audience can imagine easily since it is performed on a raised 3x7 platform which actually does look like a comic book frame from the audience point of view. Marc Frost, is also a student of Lecoq and studied at the London International School for Performing Arts which is an off-shoot of the Jacques Lecoq school in Paris. He started this team, Theatre Unspeakable, in Chicago about six years ago. I am so glad I got to experience this type of production, it is so unique and I have never seen anything like it. Most of the audience I am sure will not get a chance to go to Paris or Chicago, so we are fortunate that they came to us!
Through the actor’s constant motion, great accents and intense characterization - the American Revolution was truly brought to life. Overall, this show actually taught me a lot about our founding fathers and their struggle to claim America. But I never knew I would laugh while learning about it.