In the popular zeitgeist, John Qunicy Adams hasn’t had the best of luck. He’s often overshadowed by his father, John Adams the 2nd President of the U.S., and is also overshadowed by the controversial, and hot-headed Andrew Jackson who beat Quincy Adams in his second run for president. JQA from San Diego Repertory Theatre allows Quincy Adams to step into the spotlight as it reviews his life, politics, and the U.S. government in general through a more modern lens and is streaming through November 5th.
Don’t worry about knowing the history to enjoy this production, JQA does not assume that you remember Quincy Adams in any particular detail in order to enjoy the play. Each scene is a series of conversations or outright debates with people ranging from his parents, George Washington, Henry Clay, James Madison, Andrew Jackson, Frederick Douglas, to Abraham Lincoln.
Starting as an eager young man, through the end of his life, the play doesn’t shy away from his strengths or weaknesses. Adams may have been incredibly smart, but he was also the very definition of a privilege. He often viewed the world unfavorably if it did not live up to his lofty definitions. His intellectual brilliance was dulled by his emotional shortcomings, especially in regards to his children, or in extending much empathy to people or things that did not interest him.
Featuring a truly excellent cast, including Crystal Lucas-Perry, Larry Bates, Jesse Perez, Rosina Reynolds this play is dynamic and dramatic. Each has a turn to make Quincy Adams their own, along with some very memorable supporting historical characters. Their characterizations are interesting, entertaining, and convey energy, which is often very difficult through a camera lens.
Lucas-Perry as Adams’ long-suffering wife Louisa delivers a beautiful, and dignified set down Adams’ standoffish behavior with his sons who he says “bore him”, and how he defines what makes a man worthy. She also notes “As I sit in the gallery watching the Senate at work, I cannot stifle the impression that it resembles nothing so much as Georgie’s school during recess. Full of wounded badly behaved little boys fighting ceaselessly over whose marbles are the brightest or whose fort is the strongest.”
An observation that seems to still ring true even today.
Perez has a lot of fun as Secretary of State Henry Clay who advises Adams “If you don’t learn to compromise you’re going to be playing more golf than governing.” He also shines as a grieving Adams later in the production.
Bates is perfectly loathsome as Andrew Jackson, as he smugly confronts Adams after defeating him in the Presidential race. Shortly afterward he returns with gravitas as the writer, statesman, and abolitionist Fredrick Douglass.
Reynolds makes a formidable family matriarch in Abigail Adams, as well as a delightfully sharp and candid George Washington.
Written by Aaron Posner the play uses each scene to contemplate questions both personal and political. What kind of person is Adams as a boy, a politician, or a father? What good is a family dynasty in a government ruled by white, wealthy men, if you’re not also one of the charismatic figures that politics seems to thrive upon? Is political compromise a bad thing?
Directed by Sam Woodhouse, the show is an excellent and engaging piece, especially in this run-up to our election. Set design by Justin Humpres, Lighting by Chris Rynne, costumes by Anastasia Pautov, and sound by Matt Lescault-Wood all work together to create each scene as well as be effective while filmed. Film Directing by Tim Powell lets this feel as close to being in a theatre to see the show as possible.
JQA by San Diego Repertory Theatre is streaming through November 5th. For tickets and additional information go to www.sdrep.org You will be sent a unique link to view the show after you have purchased your ticket.
Written by: Aaron Posner
Directed by: Sam Woodhouse
Film Director: Tim Powell
Actor: Crystal Lucas-Perry
Actor: Larry Bates
Actor: Jesse Perez
Actor: Rosina Reynolds
Scenic Design by: Justin Humphres
Costume Design by: Anastasia Pautova
Lighting Design by: Chris Rynne
Sound Design by: Matt Lescault-Wood
Dramaturg: Joel Castellaw
Assistant Directed by: Rebecca Myers
Health Safety Manager: Sarah Zimmerman
Run Time: approx 90 minutes
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