Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Ben Franklin Comes to Jimmy Tingle’s Off Broadway Theatre for his 300th Birthday.

Forget your memories of those dry elementary school productions of an airbrushed Ben Franklin, processed as blandly as a chunk of Velveeta cheese. Ben Franklin, as portrayed by Burdette Parks, in "Benjamin Franklin, Printer, Etc." at Jimmy Tingle’s Off-Broadway Theatre, in Davis Square, Somerville, not only talks about his vital roles as a printer, diplomat, scientist, and founding father of these United States, but also informs us of his ideas about “passing gas,” his dalliances with “low-women,” his advocacy of young men paired with old women, his feminism, and other juicy tidbits.

Burdette, although not a dead ringer for old Ben, pulls of this one-man show expertly, affecting a convincing avuncular manner, and the prerequisite twinkle in his eyes.

Being a long-time writer for “The Somerville News,” and a newspaper freak in general, I was interested to hear Franklin’s account of his forays into the printing business and his internship at his brother’s paper: “The New England Courant,” and his founding of the Pennsylvania Gazette” in Philadelphia.

Franklin has long been associated with Philadelphia, but he was actually born in Boston in 1706. When he worked for his brother’s newspaper as a mere boy under the pen name of “Silence Dogood;” he seemed to have ruffled a few uptight Puritan feathers with his bold pronouncements concerning freedom of the press. Franklin left the land of the bean and the cod in the dust and hightailed it to New York City, and finally Philadelphia, which became his home base.

During the production Burdette portrays Franklin in his signature print shop, talking while setting type. At the end of the production Franklin actually presents to the audience a printed piece of work, which he reads from…an interesting conceit.

What stands out about Franklin, as Burdette portrays him, is that although he was very much a creature of his own time, he thought outside the box, and his studied thought and philosophy translates well into our contemporary times.

Franklin was a compelling character and if he was around Somerville today I would surely ask him to join for me a stout at the Burren. And you know what…he might just be the kind of guy who would join me. Check this play out!

Doug Holder/ "The Somerville News"

Info: 617-591-1616

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