Capital Fringe 2014 Preview: ‘Contrafact of Freedom’ by Jordan Kaplan

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Disillusionment in the capability of the US government to make things happen, our country in a war that few approve of or even understand the reasons for, people honestly questioning whether America can continue to function the way it has been… I’m not referring to our current political climate; I’m referring to the state of affairs that the characters of Alex Pappas’ play Contrafact of Freedom find themselves in two hundred years earlier.

Titus Tompkins in rehearsal for 'Contrafact of Freedom.'
Titus Tompkins in rehearsal for ‘Contrafact of Freedom.’

Our world-premiere production tells the story of how Francis Scott Key came to be on a ship in Chesapeake Bay witnessing the Battle of Baltimore, the event that led him to write the poem that became the National Anthem of the United States.

Contrafact of Freedom will feature period music performed live by the cast and will offer a little-known glimpse into the history of the tune that we sing at sporting events with our caps off. Speaking of similarities between now and two hundred years ago, did you think that bemoaning the lack of original music and the fact that everything new just seems to steal, borrow or copy from a previous hit was a modern lamentation? Back in 1814 it was even more common, with the same melodies being completely recycled with new lyrics placed on top. That’s what a contrafact is, by the way.

Not only did Hunger & Thirst Theatre Collective want to produce this play about Francis Scott Key and the writing of The Star-Spangled Banner this summer to celebrate the bicentennial of our national anthem (good timing!), but we wanted to explore the problems we face today as a country by highlighting the similar circumstances faced by the characters in the play. That doesn’t mean this play is a downer; it’s touching, funny, and at times beyond belief – all things that history should be when it is brought to life on stage.

Underneath the tunes, jokes, and ‘peculiar’ accents, Contrafact of Freedom delivers a lesson that many of us need to be reminded of again and again – that America can only flourish if its citizens participate in and stay invested in the democratic process. Francis had to live through some rather harrowing and unbelievable events to learn that lesson. Luckily you can just sit back and enjoy our play!

-Jordan Kaplan is the Associate Artistic Director of Hunger & Thirst Theatre Collective

Contrafact of Freedom plays through July 20, 2014 at Lab II in the Atlas Performing Arts Center – 1333 H St., NE in Washington, DC. For more information and to purchase tickets, go to their Capital Fringe Page.

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Review on DCMetroTheaterArts.