On the Eve of His Execution: A Play About Thomas Paine | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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On the Eve of His Execution: A Play About Thomas Paine


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On the Eve of His Execution: A Play About Thomas Paine, Tripaway Theatre, at WNEP Theater. Thomas Paine's talents were perfectly suited to turbulent times: his rhetorical acumen transformed his essays into rallying cries during the American war for independence. But warriors, whether armed with the sword or the pen, grow restless in peacetime, and in 1794 this rabble-rouser found himself in France amid a rabble already roused. Suspected to be an English spy, he awaited execution, his only hope the intervention of the irksomely indifferent President Washington.

Imposing the rhythms of 21st-century speech on 18th-century writing requires a sensitive ear. And the 80-minute monologue Henry Andrew Caporoso has assembled from his subject's letters and publications, which Paine purportedly delivers from his prison cell, offers an engaging portrait of an idealist. In performance, however, the monologue's impeccable phrasing, meticulous enunciation, and heroic postures are impaired by Caporoso's boyish voice. Tending to break into falsetto at moments of extreme agitation, Caporoso gives Paine's outrage the piqued air of a naive adolescent suddenly confronting his own expendability.

In the world envisioned by our founding fathers, no person would be expendable, of course--and certainly not an unsung hero. But while it's good to be reminded of the principles at the foundation of our government, it's also likely that observers' fury at the neglect of Paine would have cooled over the intervening 200 years.

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