Playwright Mark St. Germain likes to play in a mind garden of “What if’s…?”, and he invariably applies that question to historical figures whose lives and exploits have piqued his imagination.
He’s taken audiences inside the cluttered Harlem home of the Collyer brothers in “Dancing Lessons”; given them imagined conversations between C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud in “Freud’s Last Session” and between literary giants F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway in “Scott and Hem.”
Now, opening at the Red Barn Theatre in Key West on Tuesday, March 28, St. Germain will give us his take on Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and President Warren G. Harding in “Camping with Henry and Tom,” a play not only filled with the playwright’s exhaustive research on the men, but a theatrically enjoyable evening filled with folksy charm and old-fashioned humor.
The play stars consummate actors Barry Tarallo as Ford, Richard Grusin as Edison, and Michael McCabe as Harding, directed by Murphy Davis. It won Lucille Lortel and Outer Critics Circle Awards in its New York premiere, and runs Tuesdays through Saturdays, through April 15th. All curtains are at 8 pm. There will be a reduced-price preview on Monday, March 27.
“Many of the plays I’ve written involve historical characters, yes,” St. Germain said. “They’re the best company and they better be, since they’ll be company for the months it takes to research and write about. A play like this is my take on the truth and the personalities they involve…a combination of facts, and fiction when interpreting those facts through dialogue. Fact, fiction – “faction” – the technique of dramatizing history.”
In “Camping with Henry and Tom”, Germaine applies his “faction” alchemy to an actual camping outing taken by Ford and Edison in 1921. He uses poetic license to add in Harding, who never made the historical trip. Documented quotes and biographies paint a realistic and far-from-sugar-coated picture of this trio, whose private personas often differed significantly from the exemplary personalities offered to the public.
Bristling with humor and finely-etched characterizations, the play touches on everything from political maneuvering (Ford thinks he should be President and has nothing but contempt for a Harding he sees as weak) to golf, to judging inventions of the modern age (“We’re toymakers, Henry,” says Edison. “That’s all we are.”). It’s an exploration of friendship, politics, and leadership – a comedic and dramatic clash of two great minds and one great heart of the Twentieth Century.
“That’s what I like to do,” St. Germain said. “I just try to get into the minds of people who are fascinating and have changed the world in some way”.
For those who like relevance, the play is almost more relevant now than when it was written in 1993 or when the purported incidents took place in 1921. Audiences will find resonances of today’s political landscape and upheaval with many of the themes touched upon and lines delivered sounding as though ripped directly from today’s headlines. It’s uncanny, really, and actually a bit prophetic in that way…just another intriguing reason to see it.
Tickets are available by visiting redbarntheatre.com/tickets or calling 305-296-9911. There will be a catered Opening Night after-party in the theatre’s courtyard following Tuesday’s opening performance, where ticket holders for that performance can mingle with cast and crew.
“Camping with Henry and Tom” is sponsored in part by Royal Furniture and the Monroe County Tourist Development Council.