‘JQA’ Review: Fictional History That Resonates Today

‘JQA’ Review: Fictional History That Resonates Today
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‘JQA’ Review: Fictional History That Resonates Today

‘JQA’ Overview: Fictional Historical past That Resonates Immediately

Sounding like a Nineteenth-century MSNBC pundit, John Quincy Adams as soon as complained to his mom, Abigail, that America was “in character quite than precise plans or packages.”

“You insisted that I try to be the neatest individual in each room,” Adams, on a roll, continued. “And you recognize what? It seems everybody hates the neatest individual within the room!”

Plus ça change …

However fantastic, so possibly the actual Adams didn’t really say all that — it’s the one in Aaron Posner’s “JQA,” introduced on-line by San Diego Repertory Theater, who does. However the sentiment matches the historic determine this play of concepts introduces, and if it finds an echo now, that may be very a lot the purpose.

Over the previous decade, Posner has emerged as a remarkably astute adapter, greatest recognized for retoolings of Chekhov performs that spotlight their psychological acuity by transposing them to modern settings (“The Seagull” turned “Silly _____ Chook,” “Uncle Vanya” was “Life Sucks”). Right here, he does one thing related with an actual determine — a prologue informs us that what follows is “not historic fiction however fictional historical past” — and seems an enticing plea for energetic authorities and elementary civics.

“JQA” is structured as a collection of 10 chronological scenes, going from Adams’s childhood till shortly earlier than his demise, between the statesman and one other individual. The interlocutors embrace Abigail Adams, George Washington, James Madison, Frederick Douglass and, lastly, Abraham Lincoln, with whom Adams briefly overlapped in his postpresidential years in Congress. The hook is that 4 actors of numerous genders, ages and ethnicities deal with each character and take turns portraying the title position — at all times recognized by a pink coat. (The manufacturing is effectively dealt with by the stage director Sam Woodhouse and the movie director Tim Powell, who solely stumble with a tacky ending.)

This conceit is just like the one in Todd Haynes’s cerebral biopic of Bob Dylan, “I’m Not There,” however whereas Haynes tried for instance how one individual can comprise multitudes, Posner appears extra focused on how an individual can symbolize — and, sure, serve — a rustic’s many individuals.

Casting additionally serves as an ironic distancing gadget: Along with pitching in as Adams, for instance, Larry Bates additionally takes on Andrew Jackson and Frederick Douglass; Crystal Lucas-Perry performs Adams; his spouse, Louisa; and Lincoln. However the play, which premiered final 12 months at Enviornment Stage in Washington, doesn’t depend on postmodern, wink-wink nods, and Posner steers away from hindsight-enriched anachronisms — golf does pop up, most likely as a result of it took off in America within the late 18th century, a coincidence simply too good to disregard.

Slightly, he makes use of pretty well-known figures to have interaction in a collection of dialectical exchanges that simply discover modern resonance. Some contact on private issues, as when Adams brings up his son’s demise, probably by suicide, with James Madison (Rosina Reynolds).

Others are very a lot political. “Preserve ’em scared sufficient, and you may often get your means,” the wily Secretary of State Henry Clay (Jesse Perez) advises a doubtful Adams. “Preserve ’em terrified, and you may run roughshod on the regulation, take away their liberties, promote them any rattling invoice of products you may think about, and as usually as not they’ll thanks for it.”

It’s clear the place Posner’s sympathies lie, and certainly “JQA” is unabashedly blue, which right here refers each to language (consider there may be some cursing however that in any other case the present is suitable for older children) and to political affiliation: By means of Adams, the play posits an excellent of public service as very important to the integrity of the nation’s cloth and its professed values.

JQA Out there on demand by Nov. 5; sdrep.org

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