Ben Franklin, the man who discovered electricity, helped found America and stood up for democracy, celebrates his 300th birthday this month.
In a celebration of his life, Barrie Howard, a local playwright, musician and actor has created a one-man show.
â€œWhen I talk about it, people are interested,â€ Howard said. â€œEveryone has a feel for Franklin.â€
The play is set in Franklinâ€™s home in the later years of his life. The audience acts as a close friend with whom Franklin shares the stories of his life.
Howard says he has tried â€œdesperately not to make it like a history lesson.â€ Instead, he mixes up facts with fun â€” playing music, reading letters and telling funny stories.
Different facets of Franklinâ€™s life are touched upon at different times during the play. Among them are his diplomatic style (warm and casual), world-wide fame (he was so well known in France, some said his image was more famous than the man on the moon) and scientific discoveries (he charted the Gulf Stream among other things).
Another important aspect of Franklin was his affinity for the common man, something not necessarily shared by his contemporaries, most of whom were land-owning gentry.
â€œHe was comfortable with democracy, and most of our founding fathers really werenâ€™t,â€ said Howard.
Howard has gained an increasing respect for Franklin after researching his life.
When first embarking on the one-man show, he expected Franklin to a be a stodgy old man. He based this on Franklinâ€™s famous saying â€œearly to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.â€ It didnâ€™t take long, however, to learn the truth.
â€œMuch of that was for appearances sake,â€ said Howard. â€œHe was a heck of a salesman is what he was.â€
He also discovered that Franklin enjoyed the naughtier sides of life.
â€œFranklin was a pretty earthy guy, and he liked ladies and he liked wine, and he had a good time,â€ said Howard.
Despite this wine and lady enjoyment, Howard has crafted a child-friendly show.
â€œThis is pretty mild stuff,â€ he said.
The main goal is to paint a portrait of someone who is considered one of Americaâ€™s most important figures.
â€œIf you talk to a scientist, I think youâ€™d get a different opinion, but I think his greatest accomplishment is the founding of America,â€ Howard said. â€œI think the country would have looked a lot different without him.â€
Want to go? â€œA Visit with Ben Franklin: The Founding Father Who Would Wink at Youâ€ will be performed at the Lincoln Cultural Center Jan. 13 and 14 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $7 for adults and $5 for students and seniors. There will be free performances of a shorter duration at the Gaston Main Library on Jan. 14 at 2 p.m., the Denver library on Jan. 20 at 7 p.m. and the Charles R. Jonas Library in Lincolnton on Jan. 28 at 2 p.m.
by Sarah Grano