BOSTON – Once again this summer, history will come alive – in the very spot it actually happened 247 years ago.
The Bostonian Society and the National Park Service are again presenting Patrick Gabridge’s play “Blood on the Snow” – based on the aftermath of what came to be known as the Boston Massacre – through Aug. 20 at the Old State House on Washington Street.
On March 5, 1770, a British officer and seven soldiers – according to most reports, after being taunted and perhaps threatened – fired on a crowd of Bostonians, killing five and wounding nine.
Gabridge’s play begins the next morning in the Council Chamber of the Old State House, and the exact same room is being used for this production, lending the kind of authenticity it is hard to duplicate.
Gabridge used historical accounts to imagine the discussion as Thomas Hutchinson (Dale Place), the royal governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, is reviewing his options with his advisers in the wake of the events of the evening before, and as he looks out the window of the council chamber, he can still see the blood on the snow of what was then King Street (now State Street).
There is a lot on the line for Hutchinson – American-born but most decidedly loyal to the British Crown and Parliament — in how he will handle the crisis and possibly remove the term “acting” from his title, while struggling to keep the peace and prevent further bloodshed.
He has been stung by his past decisions, and is wary of being bullied by the mobs gathering outside.
“I’ve seen my house torn to pieces,” says Hutchinson. “It is not my intention to be popular.”
Tensions were already running high even before the shootings, largely thanks to the unpopular Stamp Act and the seizing of John Hancock’s ship “Liberty” for allegedly carrying smuggled (untaxed) goods.
As those gathered in the council chambers debate the incident, reports from the outside are troubling. Lewis Wheeler’s Samuel Dexter of Dedham, a successful businessman serving on the Royal Governor’s Council, reports that men are taking up arms and rushing to Boston in large numbers, and that the soldiers’ retreat is necessary to prevent further bloodshed.
Bill Mootos reprises his IRNE Award-winning role as Royall Tyler, a wealthy merchant and council member who trashes the eyewitness testimony of a young black slave named Andrew (Trinidad Ramkissoon).
Harrison Gray (Jerry Goodwin), the treasurer of the province and the oldest member of the council, ultimately becomes part of the solution, with a personal guarantee – backed by his fortune – that the local militia will be able to keep the peace in the streets of Boston in the absence of the soldiers if they retreat.
Ken Baltin’s Andrew Oliver, the secretary of the province and Hutchinson’s brother-in-law, is a wealthy loyalist who has been the target of angry Bostonians in the past because of his involvement in the Stamp Act, and is wary of becoming a victim again.
Into the chamber comes a delegation representing the Town Meeting, comprised of Boston residents. Matt Ryan’s John Hancock is a reasoned, level-headed, diplomatic type, and his arrival is greeted warmly, in contrast to the coolness for his colleague Samuel Adams (Craig Ciampa). Both want the same thing – the withdrawal of the British forces, but Adams is more prepared to tell Hutchinson what will happen if they don’t, especially after the townspeople they represent voted 4,000-1 against the first compromise offered by Hutchinson.
Ciampa’s Adams offers hints of the firebrand he was, while Hancock is the cooler, reasoned character as portrayed elsewhere, such as in the musical “1776.”
Lt. Col. Dalrymple (Daniel Berger-Jones) is concerned not only for the safety of his men but wants to be taken off the hook if he agrees to evacuating the city. He demands that Hutchinson put the decision into writing before he will allow his soldiers to be moved away from their assigned stations.
If you’re going to do something, do it right, and the producers of the piece have engaged talented director Courtney O’Connor and some of Greater Boston’s finest actors to portray the iconic historical characters, while playwright Gabridge has crafted a piece that is informative, entertaining and suspenseful – even if history has already recorded the outcome.
Outside the window of the council chambers, a gathering storm of angry townspeople can be heard until a decision is reached.
In the end, cooler heads prevail and in the eventual jury trials, six soldiers will be acquitted of murder and two others found guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter, largely due to the efforts of defense attorney John Adams.
Last year’s run of “Blood on the Snow” saw critical acclaim and sold-out performances, largely because the piece works on several levels: As an educational tool, a primer for the event that became known as the Boston Massacre and its aftermath, and as an entertainment that generates a fair amount of tension and suspense.
Because the audience at each performance is limited to about 50 people seated on opposite sides of the room, reserve your tickets early for a unique theatrical experience.
The Bostonian Society and National Park Service production of “Blood on the Snow.” Written by Patrick Gabridge. Directed by Courtney O’Connor. At the Old State House, 206 Washington St., Boston, through Aug. 20. Tickets: bloodonthesnow.com.