Thursday, October 26, 2017

History through a Distorted Lens

Thomas and Sally
Written by Thomas Bradshaw
Directed by Jasson Minadakis
Marin Theatre Company

Extended to October 29, 2017

Reviewed by Christine Okon

If you question the narrator of MTC's production of Thomas Bradshaw'sThomas and Sally,  the controversies about "revisionist history" stirred up by this play can be put into perspective, sort of.

Roomies Ella Dershowitz and Rosie Hallett
Martha (Ella Dershowitz) and Karen (Rosie Hallett) are college roommates in a typical modern dorm room, with two twin beds, desks, closet door, etc. that soon have different uses as the play unfolds. Martha is raving about the gorgeous, shirtless athletes she watched earlier in the day as she hunts for her vibrator which was casually "borrowed" by Karen who is now struggling with a paper she needs to write about Thomas Jefferson.  It turns out that Martha's last name is Hemings and that she is a descendant of Sally Hemings, the slave who bore several children by Thomas Jefferson. And boy, does Martha have stories to tell, since she knows "everything" about that topic, but in an Entertainment Tonight - meets American History 101 gossipy sort of way.

Robert Hemings (Cameron Matthews), James Hemings William Hodgson), Martha Jefferson (Ella Dershowitz), Thomas Jefferson (Mark Anderson Phillips), Betty Hemings (Charlette Speigner), and Karen (Rosie Hallett).

Martha's storytelling is not linear and moves quickly between the present and 18th century America, with actors doing double or triple duty to portray multiple characters entering, exiting, and interacting, and set pieces being rearranged in a crisp and rapid choreography of stage design (kudos to Sean Fanning). The slavelife saga of Sally's mother Betty involved multiple sales and many children with different men; in one birth scene, "babies" (plastic dolls) are "delivered" one after the other in quick sequence, an amusing and effective trick to compress the passage of time. This same trick is later used to depict the many children of Thomas Jefferson with his wife Martha. A lot happens, and some of it may be historically accurate (Bradshaw did extensive research for the play), but remember, it's story told by someone from the future looking at events through her subjective lens.

The conflicted (he owns slaves, but thinks they should be free?) and contemplative Thomas Jefferson is earnestly and passionately played by Mark Anderson Phillips who engages in anachronistic banter with John Adams and Ben Franklin as if they were college buddies who "get to do all the fun stuff" when it comes to shaping the emerging new government.

Benjamin Franklin (Robert Sicular) and Thomas Jefferson (Mark Anderson Phillips)

The meeting of Thomas and Sally, so wonderfully played by Tara Pachecho, buzzes with an attraction that becomes pretty juicy and intense, depicting the two as passionate and creative lovers more than master and slave. Whether this is true or not is not at issue: Martha doesn't hold back on the vivid descriptions of what may have happened, although it is probably more of what she wishes for in her own romantic life.

Thomas Jefferson (Mark Anderson Phillips) and Sally Hemings (Tara Pacheco).

Thomas and Sally
  tries to titillate with explicit details and a sprinkling of some facts to show how some parts of collective memory are shaped by the zeitgeist.  Martha and Karen never leave the dorm room, nor do they really learn anything new, from what went on with Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings.

Thomas and Sally

Photographer: Kevin Berne

L. Peter Callender*
Jupiter Evans/French Servant

Scott ​K. Coopwood*
John Adams/Lafayette/Captain Hemings/Overseer/Jacques

Ella Dershowitz

Rosie Hallett*
Abigail Adams/Patsy/Karen

William Hodgson*
James Hemings

Cameron Matthews
Robert Hemings/Hugo

Tara Pacheco*
Sally Hemings

Mark Anderson Phillips*
Thomas Jefferson

Robert Sicular*
Benjamin Franklin/John Wayles/French Cook/French Tailor/Man

​Charlette Speigner*
Elizabeth (Betty) Hemings/Renee

​Thomas Bradshaw

Jason Minadakis

Betsy Norton*
Stage Manager

Laura Brueckner
Production Dramaturg

Sean Fanning+
Scenic Designer

Ashley Holvick
Costume Designer

Mike Post
Lighting Designer

​Theodore J.H. Hulsker
Sound Designer

Jessica Berman
Dialect Coach

Jemier B. Jenkins
Assistant Director

* Denotes member of Actors Equity Association
+ Member, United Scenic Artists
^ Member, Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers

Marin Theatre Company
397 Miller Avenue 
Mill Valley, California 94941
Phone: 415.388.5200 Fax: 415.388.0768

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