We hear it every day on the news: Another police shooting of an unarmed (more often than not, African-American) man. It leaves you feeling horrified, helpless and hopefully motivated to do something: Protest? March? Civil Disobedience? Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders even evokes our history when he says that we’re in dire need of a “revolution.”
Let’s return to the 1770s, when citizens of Boston stood up against British rule. Tired of taxes and violence, they began to protest in large numbers and on March 5, 1770, when a throng marched near the British headquarters of the acting governor, soldiers fired into the crowd, killing four unarmed civilians. The governor ordered the soldiers responsible held for trial – but just as now, the people then knew that convictions are rare, especially with the governor insisting it was “an accident.” Another so called “accident” occurred the week before, when a customs officer fired to disperse a crowd and killed an eleven year old boy.
Playwright Patrick Gabridge uses the March 5th shooting (now called The Boston Massacre) as a baseline for a riveting and suspenseful dramatization of the events which would culminate in revolution just a few years away. BLOOD ON THE SNOW (playing through June 5th at the historic Old State House) unfolds like Greek tragedy, with the governor’s (and Great Britain’s) hubris center stage. What makes Gabridge’s drama unique is that we are seeing it unfold in the very place, the Council Chamber, where Governor Hutchinson convened his advisors. We’re sitting where our ancestors met to deal with the volatile consequences of the killings. The historical significance creates a powerful melding of past and present, reality and theater.
What we know now, that they couldn’t possibly know at the time, is that the spirit of an American Revolution was kindled and began to smolder that day when the soldiers fired their guns. And they couldn’t know the resonance it has today that the first man to be killed was an African-American named Crispus Attucks. His death is widely regarded as the first casualty of the revolution.
Director Courtney O’Connor has a first rate cast to inhabit the conflicted council members as well as the fervent, embryonic revolutionaries. Dale Place gives a lovely, haunted performance as the acting governor. It’s to Gabridge’s credit that each character is a fully realized person, not just a villain: The governor even tells us he fears that “this will bring a new era of darkness upon us.”
Daniel Berger-Jones, too, gives a sympathetic (and wry) performance as the officer in charge of the military unit that killed the four and wounded eight that day. Arthur Waldstein has the plum role of Provincial Treasurer. He gets the thrilling “all my sons” speech and he gets to make a pivotal proposal to the council when they want to increase the military presence.
Bill Mootos, too, cuts quite a swath with his impassioned words, imploring his colleagues to consider another solution. Lewis D. Wheeler makes impatience a virtue as he tries to convey the tangible danger of bringing in more troops. Peter G. Andersen gives voice to the slain as he testifies to what he saw happen. Even Ken Baltin’s harsh, racist reproach doesn’t ruffle the slave’s quiet calm.
Scot Colford as the doorkeeper supplies gentle humor to the piece as he officiously guards the council gate. So does Brett Milanowski as the no nonsense, ready for a brawl, tight lipped Samuel Adams (I’ve never seen a tighter jaw!), in direct contrast to Matt Ryan’s elegant, gentlemanly John Hancock. O’Connor even supplies a delightful exit for the two. Hats off to the Bostonian Society and the National Park Service for joining Gabridge and company for an important, intelligent look at our ancestors, our beginnings and our constant struggle for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.