By Michele Markarian
“Blood on the Snow” – Written by Patrick Gabridge. Directed by Courtney O’Connor. Presented by The Bostonian Society at the Old State House, 206 Washington Street, Boston, through August 20.
Through a side entrance in the Old State House, you make your way up a winding, wooden staircase to be ushered into The Council Chamber. Two sets of chair rows face each other, flanking a long, elegant table. Dr. Nathaniel Sheidley, Executive Director of the Bostonian Society enters – he’s modern day, by the way – and explains to us that the real-life drama that “Blood on the Snow” is based on took place in this very room, the violence having taken place outside the actual window. Wow. This adds a level of authenticity to what we are about to witness that makes this not just a play, but an experience.
“Blood on the Snow” tackles the aftermath of the infamous Boston Massacre, where British soldiers, stationed in the area to uphold Parliamentary rule, fired shots into a provocative crowd and killed five people. The next day, as angry crowds stormed outside of what was known as the Town House, a meeting was called of the Provincial Council as to what to do about the continued presence of the soldiers. Acting Governor Thomas Hutchinson (the formidable Dale Place) is reluctant to take any action, other than to lock the soldiers in jail, claiming that it is not within his power to do more. His councilors, however, feel differently, and over the course of the evening, manage to convince the unwilling Hutchinson to take action and have the soldiers removed.
This is an interesting drama for interesting times. So many themes relevant to today’s world are present in the piece: witness credibility, fake news (“I talked to twenty people and not one told the same story” one of the council complains), racism, governance by the rich. “You’re isolated in your comfortable worlds! You don’t understand the men in the street,” says Samuel Dexter (Lewis D. Wheeler) to Hutchinson. And indeed, doing right by the people is the source of the play’s conflict.
Courtney O’Connor has assembled a terrific cast. Dale Place is appropriately dignified and irritated as acting Governor Hutchinson. When he warns his council that “Vengeance moves quickly, justice proceeds slowly” you can feel his fear at being pushed into making a hasty decision. Daniel Berger Jones lends gravity to Lt. Colonel William Dalrymple, the man responsible for the safety of the King’s soldiers in Boston. Lewis D. Wheeler plays councilor Samuel Dexter with a timely sense of urgency. Matt Ryan’s John Hancock is precise and pompous, while Craig Ciampa’s Samuel Adams presents his case with thinly-concealed passion.
But really, the incredible part about “Blood on the Snow” is the thrill of feeling that you, the audience member, are witnessing history unfold literally right in front of you. Visitors to the chamber – a young black witness, Hancock and Adams – enter through the front door, which is bolted to keep out the potential rioting crowds. Hutchinson and his men race to the windows to see how the mob in the street is progressing. Tea is poured, food is eaten, arguments ensue. This is a very exciting moment in time to bear witness to. It left me feeling not just satisfied, but grateful for the reminder that our country has survived greater rifts than the one that’s currently being played out in government today. For more info go to: http://www.bostonhistory.org/about-the-show/