Red-Haired Thomas at The Ohio

One can imagine that economic and real estate troubles are on the top of playwright Robert Lyons’ mind. With the impending demise of his much-beloved Ohio Theatre in Soho, it shouldn’t be surprising to learn that he’s got a lot to say about the economy, real estate, injustice, the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, etc. etc. One can imagine the playwright conjuring a mythical, god-like Thomas Jefferson risen from the dead and addressing a modern audience with the following angry monologue:

Imagine: The Revolutionary War is over. The British are defeated. Imagine you are a soldier, a veteran. You’ve done some things on the battlefield that you’d just as soon forget. But you did them, because you loved your country. And you believed in freedom. You were paid in government securities, but you heard that the U.S Treasury is broke. They have no currency. What good is a government security? You can’t cash it at the grocery store. So when a man in suit and tie offers you fifty cents on the dollar, you take it. What the hell: something is better than nothing.

What you don’t know, but they do, is that Hamilton – the bastard-  has promised to honor their FULL value. The Bankers and investors are buying up the securities anticipating a tidy profit. You, the battle-worn veteran, will be cheated out of your just rewards by the money-men. Patriot soldiers fleeced by an army of speculators whose only loyalty is to their own profit margins. The promise of the American Revolution is falling into enemy hands. A complete betrayal of the spirit of 1776!

In my mind, I had imagined the national government as an exalted arena, where only the ablest, most intellectually talented officials would congregate. To see it overrun by an obnoxious collections of financiers and money changers. Men who did nothing but move paper around and adjust numbers. Men who make their living manipulating interest rates. The kind of social parasites Jesus himself drove from the temple! Land is the only true measure of wealth. What was the war, if not a battle for land?

This passionate but muddled speech about conflict, land, identity, future, idealism and democracy is emblematic of the entire production of Soho Think Tanks’ Red-Haired Thomas. The press release describes the show as:

Professional gambler Cliff has got it bad. His daughter doesn’t need him, his wife might leave him, and his newspaper vender Iftikhar, whose mother country is at war, just might kill him. Witness Cliff’s darkly comic, spiraling descent into a paranoid mythology of power-point presentations, rolls of quarters and hostage videos. Can our migraine-plagued redheaded founding father Thomas Jefferson save the day? Enter with caution into a desperation-filled dreamscape, where the sanest inhabitant may be Thomas Jefferson. (With songs.)

Ably directed by The Debate Society’s Oliver Butler, the production is amiable if flawed.  I saw it on the first night of previews and it was still a little rough around the edges – missed lighting cues,  strange line readings (missed lines?), weird timing, what seemed like some technical malfunctions. So I don’t think I saw the play as it is now, now that they’ve probably worked out the kinks.  It is a show that is trying to tackle a lot of ideas and a lot of story in only 80 minutes. Its a good effort but could probably use a little more time in development. Time they’d have had if the real estate moguls weren’t shutting down The Ohio.

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