Jonald Jude Reyes is a Writer, Performer & Director in Chicago, IL. His works have been performed in various theaters city-wide, including Stage 773, The Annoyance, and The Second City. In 2016, he was named Best of Stage Director by the Chicago Reader and was selected to the DirectorsLabChicago program. Learn more at http://www.jonaldjude.com.
Pictured: Kai Ealy. Photo by Jake Fruend and Maisonet Photography.
By Jonald Jude Reyes
The dynamics of a father & son relationship are often perplexing. With the assumed normal construct of what a “man” is and what a man wants, we often have conflicting agendas, and as the son grows into his preferred wants, a father may continue to instill his perceptions of how the son should think. A communication gap can grow between the two, and a competitive nature can easily distant the two apart. But the underlying connection still seems to be love and camaraderie. Why? We may never know, but in Jackalope Theatre’s current production of Lloyd Suh’s FRANKLINLAND, we can observe this relationship’s complexity.
Scene Designer Milo Bue assembles a slanted stage dressed in appropriate 1700’s furniture and garnished with books and papers lying around, transporting us in time. Ben Franklin (Tom Hickey) and his son, Willam (Kai Ealy) open the play talking about Ben’s current project — capturing electricity with a kite and a key. “Power will rest in our hands,” says Ben, notably setting a subtle motivation for his continued determination to explore. Ealy plays William honest and earnest, doing whatever his father wants him to do. This anemic ambition strikes a chord with Ben, as he tries to push William into finding things out for himself, but William sincerely just wants to follow whatever his father tells him to do. The Founding Father bluntly tells his son that he’s “a hard act to follow,” and that he fears his son will become somewhat lackadaisical as he enters the military instead of an educational vocation. In this opening act, Hickey intelligently balances his outspoken moments and his comedic moments and establishes a charisma that people have noted Ben Franklin to have. A charisma that perhaps makes people also think that he was one of our Presidents.
Ben continues to push William into exploring anything & everything, including sex, but it seems foreign to him.. Imagine your father being someone that invents technology, scientific theories, politics, and more, while you’re just trying to understand what you still want in life. Ben shares a dream of establishing an environment where inventors can workshop, explore and try. Imagine a place where all artists, poets, authors, and scientists continually converse with ideas. Ben tells William of this piece of land in Nova Scotia where he wants to make this dream into a reality and names it ‘Franklinland.’
These dreams and out-of-the-box thinking are overwhelming to William, and as the play continues we can see the dynamics in him change. Ealy plays William’s innocence so well at the top and understands to gradually mature his attitude & thoughts as his character becomes older. We see William become Governor of New Jersey and how the powered position instills confidence. Ben, again, pushes his own thoughts into William but William has grown into not wanting them anymore.
Steve LaBedz projections assist in setting our time frame throughout the play, and we even get to a humorous and poignant fight sequence from Choreographer Almanya Narula.
FRANKLINLAND is layered with the history of this American Founding Father and all of his amazing accomplishments, yet, in hindsight, it’s really a lighthearted tale of a father & son relationship. Ironically, in a story of a son trying to shine out of his father’s shadow, the play will probably teach you things about William Franklin that you didn’t know beforehand. So in retrospect of the characters’ motivations, Suh accomplishes the task of placing William Franklin in history.
FRANKLINLAND runs through February 24th. For more information visit jackalopetheatre.org.