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Monday, October 19, 2009
Ben Franklin: Unplugged
One morning while shaving monologist Josh Kornbluth came to the realization that he bore a resemblance to Benjamin Franklin. After a chat with his opportunistic aunt about this, he eventually landed himself a gig playing the founding father in a series of MSNBC commercials. While prepping for the role though, he learned some things about Franklin that hindered his efforts and left him wondering if he might not have been the flawless sage portrayed in uncountable history books.
This is the basis of Ben Franklin: Unplugged, Kornbluth's one man show, which continues through November 22nd at Portland Center Stage's Gerding Theater. How many Americans can tell you much about Franklin beyond his scientific achievements, his involvement in the Revolutionary War and his reputation for being a cantankerous lady's man? That was the extent of Kornbluth's knowledge before he cracked open Franklin's autobiography and discovered that he devoted only a few paragraphs to his involvement in the war and his famous kite experiment.
Kornbluth was fascinated by this and went off looking for an explanation. Along the way he met up with an eccentric Berkeley bookseller, an even weirder Franklin scholar and had the opportunity to cause a ruckus on the Yale campus. The answers he found center around Franklin's illegitimate son William and their estrangement.
One of the central themes of the show is how a person's perspective can mar their memories and opinions, especially when it comes to historical figures. Kornbluth's links all of this to his own relationship with his deceased father and his mother's peculiar idolization of Joseph Stalin.
Kornbluth's a great story-teller and Ben Franklin: Unplugged, despite the cheesy title, doesn't get too marred in historical factoids or familial pathos. It also shines a light on a side of Franklin that further exposes the complex man behind the lovable legend.