The General from America
TimeLine Theatre Company. By Richard Nelson. Dir. Louis Contey. With Terry Hamilton.
The trouble with TimeLine Theatre’s General is that, like much historical drama, it’s timeline theater. The established facts of some well-known historical figure get methodically, chronologically played out. Our schoolyard knowledge sets the premise: Benedict Arnold (Hamilton) was a traitor. But playwright Nelson never gets the who/how/why of Arnold’s momentous act to jump off the timeline and into real time. We trudge through Nelson’s desert-dry dialogue, with just a few drops of moisture that, in such arid conditions, evaporate but quick: scant personal touches like a devoted but foolish sister; a devoted but flighty wife; a devoted but duplicitous friend, George Washington, whose betrayal partly prompted Arnold’s own. The humor also smacks of genus historicum: Washington mocks the idea of a city being named after him. (He did get a city named after him, you see.)
Capable people, who sadly can’t spritz up the parched play, are onboard here: As Arnold, Hamilton tries to liven up his leaden lines by alternately shouting and whispering them and, like the others, through superficial projecting (at one would-be key moment, Hamilton engages in ill-chosen, deep nasal inhalations to signal suppressed emotion). Contey’s plodding direction never overcomes the historical-drama dilemma of presenting personages rather than people, while the usually ace design team has composed an equally colorless visual and aural landscape. The grayish clouds painted on the back of the stage resemble the skies one sees in history-textbook reprints of American-hero paintings—like Nelson’s drama, a twice-removed representation of a representation.—Novid Parsi