I assume you know little about the man, who was a writer, speaker, diplomat, attorney, congressman and of course, the Commander in Chief – #6 to be exact. You may have heard about him being a skinny dipper or even his pet alligator that was kept in the bathtub in the White House – yes, bringing back memories now.
Performed in Arena Stage’s (beautiful yet most uncomfortable seater) Kogod Cradle Theater and brought to us by award-winning playwright/director Aaron Posner, JQA is a fresh perspective on one of our historic figures. And because this will be the first introduction to JQA (the man) since grade school for many, Posner uses this blank slate well and infuses current themes throughout. In the program forward, Posner writes that JQA is an attempt to look at today through the lens of yesterday – versus being a documentary.
But, so what does this three letter play convey to us about this man of privilege?
For starters, we see that he grew up with love and order. His rigid and firm reputation and knack for accomplishment were influenced by surroundings – being raised around others with high achievements. Get the message here.
The cast of JQA is four main characters – Jacqueline Correa, Eric Hissom, Phyllis Kay and Joshua David Robinson – all of whom bring a wealth of experience to their roles. And roles is plural, as each actor gets a turns playing the characters and also, Mr. Adams himself.
This as very different and while the first time I’d seen a play that had characters changing throughout, i really enjoyed seeing how each embodied the many roles. Seeing the women play JQA was a bit off-putting at first, but that quickly wore off. What came was a clear depiction of JQA’s eloquence, arrogance and quick retorts. .
Mostly walking us through would-be conversations between John Q. Adams and a few historic American figures: Frederick Douglas, Ab Lincoln, Andrew Jackson and George Washington. I was most excited for the conversation with Frederick Douglas and the subjects, passion and agreeing or disagreeing that would ensue. My high expectations were met well.
JQA gives attendees a provocative taste of history, with permeated current edginess themed throughout. We live feeling a bit closer to JQA, understanding his affinity for people and country.
Arena Stage’s JQA runs through April 14, and is written and directed by Aaron Posner. Set, Meghan Raham; costumes, Helen Huang; lighting, Jesse Belsky; sound, Karin Graybash. The show runs approximately 90 minutes with no intermission. Get your tickets: arenastage.org.