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BWW Review: History Comes Alive in BEN FRANKLIN: AN INGENIOUS LIFE with Ray Flynt

Benjamin Franklin: one of America's Founding Fathers and man on the $100 bill comes to life in Ray Flynt's Ben Franklin: AN INGENIOUS LIFE. Known as a philosopher, inventor, signer of the Declaration of Independence and the guy with the kite and key in thunderstorm, Ben Franklin is the stuff of legend, but a real person nonetheless. Ray Flynt takes on the iconic figure in the one-man-show, which he wrote, directs and performs.

It begins in Franklin's Philadelphia home during the 1780's. The set is cozy with a modest desk and chair. Flynt directly addresses the audience as though we are guests in his house. From there the ramblings and recollections of old man Franklin take shape. We learn of his childhood and how his struggles lead him to the man he would become. Franklin was quite the acolyte and a man before his time with his ideas of freedom for all people, electricity, and the list goes on.

History nerds will enjoy this show as the timeline of Benjamin Franklin's life follows the birth of the nation. I'm a self-proclaimed history buff even before it was considered cool by HAMILTON. It was interesting to hear the American perspective from the well-respected and well-known activist. While serving as the minister to France during the 1780s, he brought his ideas of freedom to our allies during the American Revolution.

Flynt developed his script using Franklin's posthumous autobiography, letters and essays. So the show's material is sourced directly from Franklin's words. It does not feel like an audiobook or an essay being read aloud. Think of it as a one-sided conversation. There are colonial jokes about "wind" and "wine" that illustrate Franklin's wit. After the show, it becomes a two-sided conversation, as Flynt offers a talk back.

One thing that caught me off guard was the amount of Franklin-isms that are still used today and exactly how much of our American story was influenced by Franklin. For example, Franklin said: "Early to bed. Early to Rise. Makes a man healthy and wise." He believed that time and resources could be saved if people woke up at dawn and slept at dusk. Sound familiar? Perhaps Ben Franklin invented Daylight Savings Time. There were many more instances like this where my ears pricked up in recognition of a quote. Ben Franklin was a man full of wise words indeed.

Ray Flynt embodies the larger-than-life character. The character, so frequently depicted in popular culture, does not disappoint. The colonial English rolls off Flynt's tongue as if he speaks like that every day. Flynt's tone and cadence while reading sections of the Declaration of Independence was impactful and real. I imagine Ben Franklin to be more ostentatious and privileged, but Flynt chooses to portray Franklin in a softer light. We see Flynt as Franklin reviewing life from a point of view where he is self-aware of his extraordinary position.

I left the performance wondering, if Franklin were alive today what would he think of our world? He would definitely be fascinated with all of our "modern" facilities that make life convenient. I can also see him concerned about how little our government has changed. Ben Franklin's birthday is January 17, which would make him 311 years old.

Ben Franklin: AN INGENIOUS LIFE runs January 12th - 15th at the John and Rita Lowndes Shakespeare Center. For tickets and more information visit https://www.eventbrite.com/e/ben-franklin-an-ingenious-life-tickets-26982605700.

Photo credit: Ray Flynt


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