The Blue Raccoon

Sunday, March 09, 2008

John Adams At The Byrd:
Tom Hanks asks us all to be convivial in the dark

Well, watch the trailer here.

Billion-eyed audience I can't tarry here long though I wanted to say that we were able to attend the preview of the HBO John Adams miniseries at the Byrd Theatre and Richmond got to see Tom Hanks hijinks. When the Byrd Theatre lost power-- for quite a brief period--Hanks seized the flashlight from Governor Kaine's security detail and illuminating himself went up to the podium and said, "Virginia has survived 300 years. You can take a power outage. Please, do not just remain calm, but convivial." For the record, Hanks is not shorter in person and can command a room like a stage actor, and he shaved a century off Virginia's founding date. Oh, well. It was Tom Hanks! In the house!

An HBO executive made reference to miniseries shot here--from Finnegan Begin Again to the Lackawanna Blues but it was Hanks who played to the assembly with Governor Kaine and legislators among those in the Byrd. He mentioned that the John Adams set near Mechanicsville was already getting used for another shoot, and that this activity should continue, adding with a wry smile, "Not that Virginia should become known as the Hollywood of the South or anything..." causing a roar from the crowd. Virginia has lost film shoots because the General Assembly stopped using incentives to tax breaks to production companies to lure them here. Hell, back in the late 1990s even I got some film work. Governor Kaine and Hanks acknowledged the effort of Virginia Film Commission director Rita McClenny, through whose good offices I was there.

Speaking of good offices, in the 1,500 or so people who filled the Byrd, I found myself one empty seat away from Joe Walton, a board member and IT guru at the Firehouse Theatre, and also an actual elected representative to the governing body of Powhatan County. We both thought that the fortuity of us ending up next to each other was quite interesting. He also urged me to shout out "Wilson!" at some point, a clever Hanks reference that I didn't get until long afterward. This is why I don't play Movie Trivia on Facebook.

Following remarks by a procession of various dignitaries and executives and a presentation by the Colonial Williamsburg Fife & Drum Corps, there was a brief hesitation about starting the film. Hanks declared, "You need to move the podium or the people up front can't see." Somebody went up and leaned the podium on its side, as Hanks yanked off the HBO decoration and handed it to an audience member in the front row.

Paul Giamatti was there, too, and he didn't say much but waved and looked quite cool with his characteristic dark rimmed glasses. He received compliments from Hanks how with in a script of 50,000 words, and Giamatti says many of them, that he never forgot a line.

We watched Episode Two, which covered a great deal of ground, involving the siege of Boston, the Battle of Concord, and drafting and proclaiming the Declaration of Independence. David Morse is a convincing Washington--stiff, well, unemotional and he seems older than Washington's then-43 years (!) -- which is maybe how we see him in this episode, and Stephen Dillane plays the somewhat dreamy/odd duck Jefferson well, too, except, by no fault of his own, he didn't seem to me as tall as Jefferson was; perhaps this was done with deliberation, so that G.W. looms over everything.

Thing is, I can't see George Washington without seeing Kevin Grantz. Kevin always played the Indispensable Man when I portrayed Jefferson at St. John's Church. That's him, on the right, in this image, from here.

Speaking of actors out of the Richmond region, the one who is most visible in this episode is Ford Flannagan, known from his stage work at TheatreIV/Barksdale here. He portrays a physician inoculating Abigail (Laura Linney) and her kids against smallpox. The long, white
curling white wig Ford wears makes him almost recognizable. Still, it's an important role in a crucial scene that shows how Mrs. Adams had to make decisions for the benefit of her family's safey when Mr. Adams was away--another scene prior to his departure when she's on her knees scrubbing the floor is every effective.

By the way, the use of wigs in this show is more realistic in terms of how people dealt with them--at one point it's so hot in Philadelphia that Adams removes his, then he forgets himself when he chooses to speak without wearing the thing. Though any comments about the Founding Fathers all resembling Vin Diesel should be kept at a minimum.

I got to shake David McCullough's hand and he provided his autograph. He was radiant in his Pultizer-prize winning historian-with-a-mniseries and old school manners. Having experienced in quite a minor way the exhiliration of exaustion of book signings, I appreciated his taking time out, standing there under the Byrd's marquee, poised to enter his limousine, to put his signature on the title page.

He also spoke this evening, in that rich Wurlitzer of a voice, and made the point that Adams advanced Washington to Congress as commander of the Continental Army, put Jefferson in charge of writing the Declaration, and appointed John Marshall Chief Justice of the Supreme Court -- all Virginians. "Adams knew a good thing when he saw it," McCullough quipped.

Much resonance in those formative debates as there are now in the current political season, and we on occasion should be reminded of whence we came. Also, if you've ever sat on a committee for any kind of administrative body, you can understand the frustration of trying to accomplish something like writing a document with the input from a group of very strong personalities.

This isn't the contrivances of The Patriot (in which Tom Wilkinson played Cornwallis, and here is a fine Franklin) or Revolution (Al Pacino! Nastassia Kinski! The white cliffs of Yorktown!--Wha?). Nay, 'tis closest you'll get this generation to an epic pertaining to the War for Independence.

And I just love me some Laura Linney (who wasn't in attendance). In the episode we viewed, she gets to heft a rifle, chop wood, raise the question about slavery and she received rousing applause when suggesting that maybe she should go down to Congress and box some ears, lay upon a bench and weep at John's writing, and play Mother Courage with her smallpox afflicted children.

Maybe the sense is imprinted upon me from my early days at Colonial Williamsburg, but I dunno, those 18th century dresses that give glimpses of women's elbows, and emphasizes their necks and clavicles...something to be said for showing little. The restrictive undergarments were for those who were required to wear them, less than desirable, though I recall one female interpreter who worked at CW when I was there, describing how stays worked something like a sports bra. Though I doubt Abigail Adams would've wanted to run a marathon while trussed up in one.

Those 18th century walk-around woman's fashions weren't as confining as, say, mid-19th century clothes would get, though the Empire period in the early 19th were quite beautiful for the women and men.

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