Friday, November 20, 2015

Kites and Kings

Benjamin Franklin (Ted Barton, left), Polly Stevenson (Katie Rubin),
and Temple (Riley Edwards) perform in Sacramento Theatre Company’s
“Of Kites and Kings.” Barry Wisdom Photography/Courtesy photo
I’m sure you remember Benjamin Franklin. You know — one of the fathers of our country? You’ve surely seen his picture on the money.
Ol’ Ben was a pretty impressive guy. He was a politician, a postmaster, a printer, a diplomat and so much more. As an inventor, he gave us the bifocals, and the Franklin stove; as a writer, he left us with wise sayings in “Poor Richard’s Almanac”; and as a scientist, he experimented with electricity.

But even larger-than-life heroes have their flaws. A wonderful world-premiere play, “Of Kites and Kings,” by Gary Wright, now at Sacramento Theatre Company, shows that in Franklin’s personal relationships there was much lacking.

The play is set in a boarding house run by a woman named Polly Stevenson (the always-funny Katie Rubin), where Franklin (Ted Barton, a convincing look-alike Franklin) seems to spend most of his time.

We learn that Franklin has an illegitimate son, William (Dan Fagan), with whom he has an uneasy relationship and the play centers mostly on that relationship — the good, the bad and, yes, the ugly. William has studied law and is a loyalist, which sets up all sorts of enmity between father and son. Both are fighting tyrants. Franklin is fighting King George while his son is fighting his father.

There are flashback scenes to Ben and William experimenting with electricity, which display a time when things were good between them — nice special effects by lighting and sound designer Les Solomon.

Costumes by Jessica Minnihan are handsome period pieces and work well for setting the feel of the play.

Rubin acts as a sort of narrator, as well as a part of the plot. She develops an instant crush on the handsome young William and her descriptions of events often include fantasy rendezvous with William. Rubin also briefly plays William’s fiancée, Elizabeth Downes, in Polly’s fantasy view of her, as an unlikable harridan with a shrill voice, in scenes that seem to play more for the humor (the kind Rubin does best) than for any important plot point in the story.

Toward the end of Act 1, we meet William Temple Franklin who, in a chip-off-the-old-block situation, is the illegitimate son of William. As the enmity between Ben and William intensifies, Ben’s relationship with Temple deepens.

Temple was played in the performance I saw by Adrian Anderson, but he shares the role with Riley Edwards. Anderson played William as a soft, spoiled young man who has affection for his grandfather and little or no relationship with his father.

As the play ends, we have perhaps a bit less of a feeling of awe about Benjamin Franklin because we have seen a serious personal flaw and it pains us.

This show has a lot of humor without being a comedy. It has a lot of serious situations without being a drama, and it discusses a bit of history without being a historical drama. What it is is a fun evening of theater by a top-notch cast.

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