Talk about being “in the room where it happens” …
That’s exactly where you’ll be if you attend BLOOD ON THE SNOW on your trip to Boston this summer.
For Patrick Gabridge’s play is not merely set in an upstairs room in the city’s original State House. It’s also played in the Council Chamber where a heated discussion actually took place on March 6, 1770.
The meeting was a must, for on March 5, 1770, the tragedy now known as “The Boston Massacre” had occurred. To make matters more eerie and site-specific, the murder of four and wounding of eight occurred right outside this very building.
As soon as the lights come up, we get a startling surprise, for there’s Lt. Colonel William Dalrymple in a redcoat uniform. Anyone who hadn’t read the program would immediately know that the time is pre-1776 when the colonies were subject to British colonial rule.
Given the strife of the previous day, Dalrymple immediately draws his sword when someone merely knocks on the door.
The playwright didn’t merely put transcripts on stage, and for good reason: none exist of the meeting. What’s Gabridge has written, however, seems so precise that he lulls us into believing that we’re hearing what happened word-for-word.
Some of those words are painful – especially where Andrew is concerned. He’s the only one of the 10 characters who doesn’t get a last name, for as a slave, he’s considered more property than person.
Suddenly Andrew is more important than he’s ever been, for he was an eyewitness to the massacre which the others were not. Nevertheless, when he’s asked to tell all, he finds many in the room ready to dismiss him simply because of his race and status. “Everyone knows they lie” is just one of the unfortunate slurs that Andrew must bear.
Trinidad Ramkissoon adeptly makes his face a mask that doesn’t dare betray his feelings. Or does the actor assume that Andrew is now utterly inured to such slights?
Acting Royal (sic) Governor Thomas Hutchinson insists “The truth must be discovered and justice be done.” Keeping order is difficult but is made substantially harder once Samuel Adams enters.
As in the musical 1776, an Adams does far more talking than Hancock. We know from that Tony-winner that John Adams was a firebrand; Craig Chiampa’s searing performance as Samuel Adams shows us that single-mindedness runs in the family. Like his second cousin John, Samuel was second to none in seeing that he would get what he wants: retalliation.
Hutchinson has every right to agree. Nearly five years earlier, protesters who were incensed by the Stamp Act extensively damaged his home. But Hutchinson isn’t inclined to be swayed by Adams’ hot head. “You overstep yourself, Mr. Adams” is his ominously low-voiced response. “Vengeance goes swiftly; justice more slowly.” In a stunning climax, Garbridge shows us which man sways the committee.
The playwright manages to reveal a character through a single sentence. When treasurer Harrison Gray says “A spring rain is what we need” to wash away the blood, we immediately glean know that he’s the type of person who doesn’t take action but simply waits for things to happen.
Is everyone in the room altruistic or do some feel they can use what has happened for their own political advantage? And, for the record, Gabridge’s line “They were facts. You may not like them, but that does not change their reality” was written long before Kellyanne Conway taught us about “alternative facts.”
(Yeah, history does repeat itself, doesn’t it?)
All the actors are solid, but BLOOD ON THE SNOW is really the province of the performer who plays Hutchinson. Perhaps actor Dale Place’s finest moment comes when he walks over to the window and glances down; he makes us believe that he’s actually seeing the blood that’s still on the snow.
You’ll only see Place’s face if you take a chair close to those windows. The room’s configuration has two rows of chairs flanking the long table in the middle of the room where the committee members sit. Thus, if you’re in the second row, you’re in the last row, for only a few dozen can be accommodated at each of the five evening performances that run Thursday through Sunday night. It’s one obvious reason why tickets through the August 20th closing are almost as scarce as a 1909 Honus Wagner baseball card.
Don’t expect a plush theater seat, for this show about hard times means sitting on a hard chair. It won’t overtax your gluteus maximus, however, for the play is a mere hour long.
Because director Courtney O’Connor’s production is taut and tense, here’s betting you’ll think that BLOOD ON THE SNOW is even shorter.