Behind every great man there is a great woman wearing a bald cap.
The spector of Ben Franklin casts a long shadow — but it’s his infamously receding hairline that accounts for a not inconsiderable portion of the hour it takes actress Kim Silverman to transform from mild-mannered school teacher into the spitting image of one of the country’s Founding Fathers for Nittany Theatre at the Barn’s production of “1776.”
“He’s the comic relief of the show. He’s really fun. I get to do a lot of mugging,” Silverman said.
Silverman is filling one of the production’s 28 roles, a collection of men who would seem more at home in an American history textbook than they would on stage — where they are all being played by women.
The play, which runs through July 25, recounts the story of historic heavyweights like Franklin, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson as they work to secure approval for the Declaration of Independence.
“It has such a voice. It’s the story of ordinary men who do extraordinary things,” Nittany Theatre board member Laura Ann Saxe said. “In our case we’re extraordinary women.”
Saxe — sans bald cap — portrays John Adams, a role that puts a nice twist on her own personal history.
Years ago, during a different production of “1776,” Saxe played the Abigail Adams to her real-life husband’s Founding Father. As John, she has the opportunity to wade deeper into the play’s fray of tangled loyalties and arguments.
“It’s very interesting to see it from this side,” Saxe said.
Her husband, Dave Saxe, hasn’t exactly been left in the dust.
As the theater’s producing artistic director, his role in the piece has transitioned from waging arguments to staging them. When Saxe applied for the performance rights to “1776” he had to make assurances that his gender-bending interpretation of the play would not alter the original script.
Franklin will still be Franklin, just with a slightly higher register.
“These words are the words of the founders and they’re spoken in the female voice and are just so clear,” Dave Saxe said.
Actress Anna Gunderson, who alongside Morgan Sichler portrays one of the only two female characters in the play, said she thinks the feminine energy on stage helps to undercut all of the political melodrama. To put it another way, “Men can be a little grandiose,” Gunderson said.