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Ben Franklin: Unplugged

The Ben Franklin bandwagon is getting crowded as Philadelphia celebrates its favorite son's 300th birthday. Latest to hop aboard is Josh Kornbluth, monologist and Franklin look-alike, although why anybody might want to unplug the discoverer of electricity in this show is baffling.

With:
Starring: Josh Kornbluth

The Ben Franklin bandwagon is getting crowded as Philadelphia celebrates its favorite son’s 300th birthday. Latest to hop aboard is Josh Kornbluth, monologist and Franklin look-alike, although why anybody might want to unplug the discoverer of electricity in this show is baffling. With no sense of history, science or biography, Kornbluth’s overlong mono-logue betrays everything Franklin stands for, and bores us to boot.

Hospitals, public schools, postal systems, fire departments: forget about them. Altruistic, sophisticated statesman? Nah. According to Kornbluth, Franklin was merely “a roue and a tink-erer.”

The real focus here is Korn-bluth and his “issues” with his lefty parents — a significantly dead father and a mother who is “one of the world’s few remaining fans of Stalin.” Fathers and sons. Revolu-tions. These themes are presented to us as if the similarities are obvious: “We had a kite, too, me and my dad.” Never mind that Franklin’s son William was Royal Governor of New Jersey during the American Revolution and not a mediocre standup comic.

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Having discovered while shav-ing one morning that his face looks like Franklin’s, Kornbluth figures this resemblance is mar-ketable. But he knew nothing about Franklin, and found Frank-lin’s autobiography too frustrating to read. So he leads us through his “research,” winding up at the Yale archives where he reads the letters exchanged between Franklin and his son.

What Kornbluth says he wants is for Ben to offer William — after years of estrangement (not to mention imprisonment) — a “hug.” But Ben doesn’t, so he’s a “BAD Founding Father!” The comedy is generally of this sort, depending more on smirking than on wit or jokes: Franklin’s writing about “low women falling in my way” becomes a gag about short women falling down, and William’s “gu-bernatorial mansion” becomes the place where “everyone receives a goober.”

Adding to the show’s desperate need of editing is its desperate need of acting. The various char-acters Kornbluth includes — his mother, his aunt, several Franklin scholars, people on the street in New York, as well as Franklin pere et fils — remain indistinct. Kornbluth lacks the acting skills — vocal or physical — to express the presence of anyone other than himself.

This causes not only theatrical tedium but helps the script to reduce all the larger issues of a legendary life in context — Amer-ica as an idea as well as a place — to the pop psychology of the personal. Kornbluth’s own neuro-ses on parade are apparently to be the measure of all men. Benjamin Franklin deserves a better birthday present than this.

Ben Franklin: Unplugged

Plays & Players Theater, 324 seats, $40 top

Production: A Philadelphia Theater Co. presenta-tion of a solo performance in two acts by Josh Kornbluth in collaboration with David Dower. Directed by Dower.

Creative: Sets, Annie Smart; costumes, Sara L. Sato, Laura Hazlett; lighting, Jim Cave; sound, Joshua Raoul Brody; production stage manager, Samantha Reinis. Opened, reviewed Jan. 11,2006. Running time: 1 HOUR, 55 MIN.</

Cast: Starring: Josh Kornbluth

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