by Beki Pineda
FRANKLINLAND – Written by Lloyd Suh; Directed by Dee Covington. Produced by Curious Theatre Company (1080 Acoma, Denver) through December 10. Tickets available at 303-623-0524 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Eric Sandvold as Benjamin Franklin is enough to get me to a theatre on a cold night. And, as usual, Eric was a bright spot in the evening. His Franklin was arrogant, narcissistic, bumbling in some situations, as sharp as a shark in others. He was self-absorbed enough to believe that hundreds of like-minded scientists would follow him to his own private Shangri La. He dreamed of a Franklinland on 20,000 acres in Nova Scotia where groups of men would conduct experiments and discover amazing things uninterrupted by the distraction of ordinary life.
But he couldn’t even sell his own son on this idyllic plan. William Franklin is the product of a short-lived liaison who tries valiantly to earn the respect and admiration of his father . . . to no avail. Dad is just too wrapped up in his own inner life to value his anxious son.
The set (designed by Markus Henry) is simple but effective. A barn bathed in a teal light at the beginning, it reverts to barn wood as the play commences. The props and costumes used in the production are stacked and hung in sight along the edges and brought out as needed by their two servants – Dante Finley and Ron McQueen – who also assist them with dressing their hair and wigs and changing coats. The richness of the costumes rise and fall with the financial success and failure of both characters. The passage of time is indicated by the wigs worn by both men until in the final scenes, Franklin give up and embraces his natural hair and encroaching age.
Franklin is, of course, a revolutionist and a determined member of the new United States. His son, on the other hand, who has been appointed Governor of New Jersey (New Jersey!!) is loyal to the King who appointed him into this prestigious (although Franklin Sr. has his own ideas as to how Prestigious this “honor” is) position. He is convinced that the revolution will be short-lived and unsuccessful, causing a further rift between father and son. The evolution of this familial relationship parallels what the country is going through simultaneously. A fervent attempt to “go along to get along” in the beginning followed by disillusionment and repressive tendencies from above. This is followed by mutual declarations of independence which result in the forming of a new understanding between the warring parties. A mutually beneficial agreement evolves between father and son as well as monarchy and democracy.
Sandvold as Benjamin Franklin is heartfelt and natural. Kenny Fedorko is, on the other hand, a somewhat labored young William. His tendency to shout his lines led to a rather one-note performance that was in stark contrast to the more relaxed pace set by his father. As an audience member, I kept mentally sending him notes to “speak softer – slow down – relax.” But he didn’t hear me. But Fedarko is a new and welcome addition to the acting pool in Denver and I can’t wait to see him in a future production. William the son was introduced to another William in the last scene of the evening, played by Dante J. Finley, in a quiet dignified performance that revealed even more truths about William the son and a new direction for the country.
A WOW factor of 8.5!