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The Most Despised Man in America

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"A lot of people think they know about Benedict Arnold," says Theatre of Western Springs artistic director Tony Vezner. But if they base their understanding of America's archetypal traitor on what they remember from high school history or a recent A&E movie, Benedict Arnold: A Question of Honor, Vezner says there's room for surprise. In 1996 playwright Richard Nelson, working on a commission from England's Royal Shakespeare Company and bothered (as he told a Playbill interviewer) by "how little of American history has been part of our dramatic culture," wrote The General From America, a new take on Arnold's story. Vezner says Arnold has been a one-dimensional character in history texts, and was simplistically portrayed (by Aidan Quinn) in the cable film, switching his loyalty to please a new wife half his age. "With Nelson's play you see all the forces that were working on him. America at that time was a mess, chaos. There's a pretty strong argument to be made that he was trying to save America, do the right thing for his country. [Nelson's play] is a fascinating character study that works on both the personal and political level, and we couldn't be doing it at a more auspicious time. It asks, what are real American values? Who is the real enemy? As for the question of whether Arnold was a good guy or a bad guy, in this play you get to choose." The General From America, with a cast of 24 directed by Vezner, opens April 24 and runs through May 4 at the theater, 4384 Hampton in Western Springs. Performances are at 8 Thursday through Saturday and at 2:30 Sunday. Tickets are $18 Friday and Saturday; $15 Thursday and Sunday. Call 708-246-3380.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Peter Bosy.

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