Monday, March 11, 2019

"JQA" at Arena Stage

The writer/director's note in the program warns you that while the writer Aaron Posner did extensive research into the life of John Quincy Adams, the play is not historically accurate. It is reinforced by the characters wearing modernish clothes, with more period like jackets or dresses overtop. When the ensemble members wear aviators when they are in a Secret Service stance, and at one point two characters drink coffee from cardboard to go cups, with heat sleeves. 
Any modern play is speaking to a modern audience regardless of the time period it is set in. This play goes a step further, making no attempt to be a bio-pic or a highlight reel, but instead using characters and settings from John Quincy Adams life - his parents, George Washington, Henry Clay, Andrew Jackson, his wife Louisa, Frederick Douglass, and Abraham Lincoln, to talk about topics ranging from honestly, legacy, sacrifice, work/life balance, parental styles, slavery, and in the end commitment to doing good. There are four main cast members, and each of them takes a turn being the titular character. The transitions are done through the handing on of one of the jackets displayed at the start of the play. 
The play is in some ways fan fic, a thought exercise about what a man who heavily journaled throughout his life might have handled some conversations we do not have access to. 
Doing such is interesting, I do think the passing reference to "the Jews" and "the rust colored" native Americans are particularly interesting because - while expressed by Clay and likely well in line with his thoughts on such people, its an interesting choice to include in a play that claims to not be historically accurate. Certainly not all characters are good, but that's the only reference to either Jews or native Americans. Their concerns are never revisited. 
I saw Jacqueline Correa in "Native Gardens". It was a delight to see her again. I think this play is an interesting look at a man who served our country far longer in other roles than he ever did as President.