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Review Roundup: FRANKLINLAND at Jackalope Theatre

Review Roundup: FRANKLINLAND at Jackalope Theatre Jackalope Theatre presents the world premiere of Lloyd Suh's new play FRANKLINLAND, which opened January 8th and runs through February 24th. FRANKLINLAND, Directed by Chika Ike, tells the story of the son of founding father Benjamin Franklin, and imagines what it would be like growing up in the shadow of one of America's greatest inventors and most iconic figures.

Let's hear what the critics had to say!

Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune: If you know your history, you'll be aware that "Franklin-land" might reference the 20,000 acres of land that Franklin was granted in Nova Scotia, a place he hoped to dedicate to scientific research, nation-building being only part of the formidable Franklin portfolio. But there was another, more troublesome Franklinland - an illegitimate son, William Franklin.The younger Franklin did well. He became the governor of New Jersey, from 1763 to 1766. Which means, of course, that William Franklin was the last colonial governor of that scenic state. Under the British crown. And you thought that your kids did not listen to you. That relationship - suffused with paradox and worthy, I think, of being the next Lin-Manuel Miranda musical - is the core of Suh's very cool little play, which is all over and done in 70 minutes. Penned in a breezy, anarchic style (a la "Hamilton," really), it zeroes in on the difficulty of having an overachieving dad, especially one who proves persistently difficult to please. (Miranda would understand.) And at the same time, it looks at how we often come to regret our efforts to force our children down any path we took ourselves. Especially as played in director Chika Ike's production by Tom Hickey and Kai Ealy, it's a sympathetic piece toward both men, suggesting they love each other even as they end up on different sides. And - one last "Hamilton" comparison- "Franklinland" is another reminder that you can't ever extract family stuff from matters of state. Political people still trying to please - or confound - their parents get up to all kinds of stuff. Still. Even in the White House.

Justin Hayford, Chicago Reader: Director Chika Ike gives New York playwright Lloyd Suh's 75-minute historical romp a tasty world premiere at Jackalope. Suh reimagines Benjamin Franklin as a self-aggrandizing gasbag perpetually stage-managing his illegitimate son William's life in hopes of forcing a hint of greatness from his manifestly unimaginative progeny-only to have him end up royal colonial governor of New Jersey, a position no better than dog catcher in Franklin's eyes. The father-son rivalry is at once idiosyncratic and iconic, giving much of the gleefully anachronistic play a quirky resonance, and Ike's quick-witted, poker-faced cast add an unlikely layer of emotional poignancy. While Suh ultimately takes on too much (the birth of America, for starters), requiring him to churn out a disappointingly conventional climax, the lead-up is captivating.

Kevin Greene, New City Stage: The unwritten history books are full of inept, disinterested and selfish fathers. Still, Suh's play avoids cynicism as a familiar familial dynamic plays out against the backdrop of the formation of this country, casting shadows that are entirely familiar even in the magnitude of this scale. The dynamic between Ben (Tom Hickey) and William (Kai A. Ealy) is reminiscent at times of the title characters in "Rick and Morty," the former offering callous and acerbic criticism while the latter attempts to keep up, despite being willfully literal, before usually succumbing to self-righteous frustration; it is an unflattering comparison to say the least though for the sake of the play's structure it lays the groundwork for William, if not Ben as well, to evolve. Their dynamic is fairly staid for the first half of the play until William receives a leg up as a British Loyalist. From there, their relationship deepens and splinters as William's desire to make his father proud curdles into antipathy while Ben's emotional shortcomings begin to dawn on him. At its best, "Franklinland" can feel like an act of reclamation or at least of practical skepticism. While we idle over our idols, they, like us, are living through a series of attempts, some successful, many not. As a characteristic, audacity is not known for being accommodating and it takes a good degree of arrogance to undertake the experiment of founding a new country. Still, Suh's play reminds audiences that courage is not the only thing; patience and understanding are virtues of enterprise as well.

Peter Thomas Ricci, Chicago Theatre and Concert Reviews: That tension surges through "Franklinland," and courtesy of playwright Lloyd Suh, lead actors Tom Hickey (Ben) and Kai Ealy (William) have beautiful dialogue to aid their performances. Writing about previous time periods is difficult, especially if one is trying to do so in an accurate fashion. The slogans and jargon of today bear no similarities to past eras, and one of my biggest pet peeves with historical dramas is how the writing and characterizations essentially place modern people into the costumes of, say, 18th century France or 19th century London. Suh, however, is able to strike a wonderful balance, writing dialogue that is both snappy and compelling to the modern ear but also flowery, ornate, and appropriately bombastic for someone of Franklin's ego. And Suh is aided considerably by Hickey and Ealy, who under the direction of Chika Ike give nuanced, energetic performances. Furthermore, all the other aspects of the show, from Milo Bue's scenic designs to Lacie Hexom's props, are as detailed and appropriate as in any of Jackalope's previous productions. Indeed, there are passages of "Franklinland" - when Hickey's Ben is describing the majesty of the natural world, or when father and son are arguing over the merits of the revolution and, eventually, descend into a comical fight - that positively sing, and the play's 80-odd minutes of intermission-free theater are some of the best you'll ever see.

Alexis Bugajski, Picture This Post: But it's not all drama, drama, drama. FRANKLINLAND is full of snappy dialogue along with these monologues packed with heart. Our actors keep a fast pace moving from scene to scene moving from year to year with well-time comedic bits, dick jokes and all. FRANKLINLAND is a good mix of history blended with the voice of now. It's about making your own way and being the best person you can be. It's a good show for history buffs and those looking for some heated family drama.

Photo Courtesy of Jackalope Theatre.


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