Blood on the Snow
The Bostonian Society takes great, and justifiable, pride in the role this city played in the birth of the United States of America. The Society -- which is open to anyone interested in joining -- formed in 1881, with a mission that speaks to the core of its purpose: To keep the Old State House here in Boston at a time when there a proposal to dismantle, transport, and reconstruct the building in Chicago.
As stewards of the history of this city and the American Revolution, the Society has curated records and artifacts, as well as overseen the daily operations of the Old State House, which still belongs to the city and is now a museum. (It's also part of the Boston National Historical Park.) If you believe Wikipedia, the Society is now the caretaker of "7,500 books, 350 maps, 30,000 photographs, and other primary source materials" relating to the 1628 establishment of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and the history that unfolded here over the following centuries.
In an unprecedented step, the Society has commissioned "Blood on the Snow," a theatrical work from prolific local playwright Patrick Gabridge focusing on the immediate aftermath of the Boston Massacre. This was an unfortunate incident that took place on the night of March 6, 1770, when British soldiers stationed in Boston faced off with an angry crowd. The soldiers opened fire; four people died that night and eight more were injured. The incident is perhaps less celebrated than the Boston Tea Party, Paul Revere's ride, or The Shot Heard 'Round the World (all of which, unlike the Boston Massacre, I learned about in elementary school on the other side of the country), but as the play teaches us, what happened next constituted a step in the direction of the American Revolution.
The day after the shootings, the acting Governor -- the embodiment of the King's authority on American shores -- met with local leaders, including Council members and representatives of the Town Meeting (which is to say, the city's population, empowered to determine some matters of local policy). It's that gathering this play re-creates, in a dramatization based upon records of the meeting.
The play takes place within the very same room where the actual meeting convened. Acting Governor Thomas Hutchinson (Dale Place) is a monarchist, but he's also concerned with the welfare of the people. Seeking to understand the events of the night before, he seeks accounts from any and all witnesses willing to describe what happened -- including an African American, a slave named Andrew (Peter G. Andersen).
Andrew's inclusion is in itself an unmissable sign of the American impulse toward democracy. Some in the assembly -- such as Council member Royall Tyler (Bill Mootos) -- are ready to dismiss anything Andrew says out of hand, solely on account of his race. Others decry Tyler's prejudices.
Even as they gather information and try to make sense of conflicting details, the group of leaders wrestle with longstanding contentious issues of self-rule and taxation. The presence of two regiments of British soldiers has heightened tensions considerably; Lt. Col. Dalrymple (Daniel Berger-Jones) is in command of the regiments, and must help the Acting Governor, the Council, and the members of the Town Meeting forge a path that signals to the increasingly angry regional populace that the government is willing to hear and respond to their grievances, but do so without either the appearance of strength or -- if it comes to that -- military advantage.
The two leaders of the Town Meeting who join the session are none other than John Hancock (Matt Ryan), an even-tempered man and something of a dandy, and Samuel Adams (Brett Milanowski), a forceful bundle of kinetic energy whose very presence radiates a dynamic independence. The view these two share -- the view of the people -- is that the presence of the troops is unacceptable, and more unrest is sure to follow.
A late addition to the assembled personages is Council member Samuel Dexter, who has juts traveled from Dedham. Along the way he's witnessed men gathering, arming, and heading toward Boston. Dexter, too, seems convinced that more violence is in the air.
Even the Council's own members are in favor of finding a way to remove some or all of the troops from the city. Harrison Gray (Arthur Waldstein) fret that his own son was standing next to one of the casualties, a young man whose life was cut tragically short. Gray is an important man -- not just a member of the Council, but the Provincial Treasurer. His words have clout.
Provincial Secretary Andrew Oliver (Ken Baltin) is much more skeptical; moreover, he's not only an official in his own right, but also Hutchinson's brother-in-law.
Overseeing the meeting in his own humble way -- by pouring tea and manning the door -- is William Baker (Scot Coldford), a meek sort whose thoughts, when finally revealed, also carry weight.
The play runs only an hour -- suitably so, because time is of the essence. To stem popular rage and turn back an even uglier outburst of violence, the men in this room have to decide quickly what they're going to do, and implement their decision without delay. (From time to time, the shouts of the mob are heard in the street -- a convincing effect that sound designer Brendan F. Doyle achieves by placing speakers just outside the windows. You believe, with chill certainty, that there is a mob, and you believe they are coming.)
The complex personal, social, and political situation is conveyed through Gabridge's expert dramatization, and embodied by each member in the cast. Equally important -- crucial, really, given the authenticity of the location -- are the props (overseen by Katharine Burkhart) and costuming. Laurie Bramhall takes charge of the latter design element, and does so with authority as well as panache. Who knew that men's fashion in the 1770s was so colorful? Flamboyant hues of bright red and Kelly green amongst some of the Council members' wardrobes stand out against their colleagues' more somber apparel.
The same holds true of the two leaders from the Town Meeting: Just seeing Hancock's violet jacket and breeches as he stands next to Adams, clad in his much plainer, almost severe-looking, earth-toned garb, you get a sense of how widely shared the desire for self-rule and democratic governance must have been. The two are as different as chalk and cheese, in affect as well as appearance, but they present a united front as they make their demands.
As history come to life, "Blood on the Snow" is stirring; as theater, it's powerfully alive with the intensity of perilous, life and death decision. Director Courtney O'Connor guides the play to success in both of these aspects. Catch it while you can, and be aware that the space only allows for very limited audiences size.
Blood on the Snow" continues through June 5 at the Old State house. For tickets and more information, please go to http://www.bostonhistory.org/upcoming-events-1/2016/3/22/blood