Benjamin Franklin: Unplugged
Who exactly was Benjamin Franklin? Was he the randy old guy who jet set to Europe, flew kites and signed the declaration of Independence? Or was he an egotistical grump who feuded with his son and ultimately let him rot in jail? In his show now playing at Portland Center Stage, Benjamin Franklin: Unplugged, monologist Josh Kornbluth tries to discover the truth about one of America’s most recognizable historical figure.
Benjamin Franklin: Unplugged begins with the realization that Josh Kornbluth bears a striking resemblance to the guy on the $100, but unlike Hal Holbrook (and his Evening with Mark Twain) couldn’t imagine parading around stage in impersonation of the founding father. A curiosity to his likeness leads Josh on an adventure into the life Benjamin Franklin and those people who study him. Some surprising omissions from Franklin’s own autobiography set Josh Kornbluth on an adventure which leads him into the depth of Yale University, onto the streets of New York dressed in full Franklin garb and to an old storage facility that hold the keys to both Franklin’s life and Josh’s own relationships.
Josh Kornbluth has made a career out of autobiographical monologues, but in Benjamin Franklin: Unplugged he puts his focus clearly on Franklin. Throughout the ninety minute show (with one intermission) we learn a tremendous amount about the life of Benjamin Franklin, especially his complex and ultimately troubled relationship with his son William. Although it’s packed with history Benjamin Franklin: Unplugged is not just a history lesson, it’s a theatrical journey which humanizes one of the nations most iconic figures. Watching Benjamin Franklin: Unplugged I was reminded of Robert Wuhl’s HBO special “Assume The Position” where common perceptions of history are unspun and often debunked. Instead of Robert Wuhl’s blitzkrieg of historical facts and musings we get a very real story of a man’s search for the person behind history.
Many monologues are delivered from behind a desk or on a stool, but Benjamin Franklin: Unplugged breaks this mold with a full set, lighting props and costumes. Josh Kornbluth moves around the stage dramatically building the world of his story, often playing characters he encounters. Kornbluth’s energy fills the stage and it’s often easy to forget that it’s only a one man show.
My favorite part of Benjamin Franklin: Unplugged comes from the interaction between Josh Kornbluth and Benjamin Franklin scholar Claude-Anne Lopez. Lopez plays Yoda to Kornbluth’s Luke Skywalker and the interchange manages to be insightful, funny and highly entertaining. Something magical also happens in the second act of the show when Kornbluth dons full Ben Franklin regalia, it energizes and transforms the piece as if he were Clark Kent putting on the Superman cape.
Benjamin Franklin: Unplugged was given a full seven week run at Portland Center Stage a bold statement of support from that organization for the talent of Josh Kornbluth and extraordinary thing for a monologist. Josh Kornbluth is immensely talented and Benjamin Franklin: Unplugged is extremely entertaining absolutely worth seeing.