J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Fall of a Hero Reading, 8 Dec., Boston

Tomorrow night—Wednesday, 8 December—there will be a free public reading of Fall of a Hero, a play about Dr. Joseph Warren. The playwright is Thomas Fleming, author of Now We Are Enemies, about the Battle of Bunker Hill, and many other books of Revolutionary history.

This reading is co-sponsored by the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center and Boston Playwrights’ Theater, both part of Boston University. It will take place in the back theater space at 949 Commonwealth Avenue in Boston. The event starts at 7:00 P.M., and Tom Fleming will be on hand to take questions from the audience afterward.

There’s a long tradition of American dramatizations of the battle for the Charlestown peninsula, starting in 1776 when “a Gentleman of Maryland” published The Battle of Bunker’s Hill: A Dramatic Piece of Five Acts, in heroic measure through the Philadelphia printer Robert Bell.

The author was Hugh Henry Brackenridge (1748-1816, shown above), who had moved from Scotland to Pennsylvania as a boy and managed to get into Princeton, where he became friends with Philip Freneau and James Madison. In 1776 he was in Maryland running an academy, and The Battle of Bunker’s Hill was first performed by his students. The next year he supplied them with The Death of General Montgomery at the Siege of Quebec.

In 1777 Brackenridge served as a chaplain in the Continental Army, and the next year started publishing the United States Magazine in Philadelphia. It failed, so he studied law under Samuel Chase, a signer of the Declaration of Independence from Maryland.

In 1781 Brackenridge settled in Pittsburgh, where he was finally a big fish in the pond. His Pittsburgh Gazette evolved into the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and his Pittsburgh Academy grew into the University of Pittsburgh. He represented the region in the state legislature, and tried to mediate the Whiskey Rebellion of the early 1790s, opposing both the whiskey tax and the violent response to it. From 1792 to 1815 Brackenridge published a rambling novel of frontier life called Modern Chivalry, and in 1799 he became a judge on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.


sam1775 said...

Did you or a Boston1775 blog fan attend? Please post a short review. Would like to have been there. Live theater set in the Revolutionary Era is rare. Last I can recall was the musical 1776, and that was corny. Good drama, or comedy for that matter, is long overdue. Will there be another chance to hear a reading or attend a performance of Fleming's play?

J. L. Bell said...

I attended, and found the event interesting, but I’m not sure it’s fair to review it. This was an unstaged “cold reading,” so the actors hadn’t rehearsed together, as I understood it. It was also evidently the first time Tom Fleming had ever heard a cast deliver his lines. A full production would be quite different.

sam1775 said...

Thank you Mr. Bell. Did Prof. Fleming's characterizations meet your high standards for verifiable accuracy with respect to Joseph Warren and the Charlestown Entrenchments, or were there interpolations or inventions?

J. L. Bell said...

There were theatrical touches, such as Dr. Benjamin Church getting into an argument with the Voice of the Author, that communicated how the play was a dramatic illusion rather than an attempt to recreate history straight. There were also some details, such as the character of Dr. Warren’s fiancée, which deviated from the historical record without such clear fictive signals. I’m not sure how Tom Fleming meant for those to be interpreted.

sam1775 said...

Thanks JL. Next time I'll read Boston1775 more often. That way I'd know about Fleming's reading in advance and would have been there. Tom Fleming has written so many worthy volumes and is getting up there in years, so hearing one of his works in progress, and one on the stage, was an unusual opportunity. If any other readers were there and will share their impressions, would be much obliged.