In her world-premiere historical fiction A Runaway, a Soldier and a Snowball Fight, presented at Fergie’s Pub by Iron Age Theatre, playwright-in-residence Leah Lawler re-envisions the momentous events that precipitated the 1770 Boston Massacre through the imagined backstory of Crispus Attucks, a runaway slave and the first casualty of the American Revolution. Lawler’s approach brings a surreal atemporality to the creative two-hander, with the characters, dressed in 18th-century costumes by Jenna Kuerzi and Rory Zummo, intermingling their colonial-era language and expressions (e.g., “hubble-bubble” and “sluice your gob”) with current post-modern banter, attitude, and jargon, (like “blah, blah, blah” and “getting in your face”).
Actors JaRon Battle as Attucks and Ned Pryce in multiple roles—a young newsboy, a British soldier named Alfie, a bar owner named Fergus, and the struggling brewer Sam Adams—turn in well-defined compelling performances. They deliver their characters’ emotions and motivations with conviction, convincingly changing their accents and demeanors as required by the plot, and slowly building the tension of the story to its shockingly abrupt and profoundly impactful conclusion.
Director John Doyle uses the real pub space to full advantage, moving the actors back and forth from the small platform stage, past the tables at which the audience is seated, to the venue’s actual bar. His blocking is engaging and immersive, and fully appropriate to the intimate narrative, set in and outside of Boston’s Green Dragon Tavern. We come to know the troubled outsiders up close and personally over the course of an hour, as the mood, augmented by the evocative notes of a flute (sound design by Luke Moyer), slowly shifts from comic to tragic.
Though parts of the script seem overly verbose and slow-paced, and some of the driving plot points are untenable (most notably, the careless revelations and uncharacteristic drunken behavior of a man who knows that his life is at stake), the play succeeds in making a universally relevant statement about trust and the lack of true understanding between people of different backgrounds and ethnicities. The intelligent and socially-aware production is supplemented by extensive well-researched program notes, including a glossary of colonial slang, quotes about racism, statistics on the rampant consumption of alcohol in revolutionary times, and essays about linguistic “code switching” and the known facts about Attucks, British soldiers, and the historic site of the Green Dragon Tavern.
A Runaway, a Soldier and a Snowball Fight offers a provocative view of American history with an updated sensibility and a message that clearly resonates in the present.
Time: Approximately 65 minutes, without intermission.
A Runaway, a Soldier and a Snowball Fight plays through Saturday, September 24, 2016, performing at Fergie’s Pub – 1214 Sansom Street, Philadelphia, PA. For tickets, call (215) 413-1318, or purchase them online.