The Post-Gazette asked the cast of Pittsburgh Public Theater's "1776" to write a sentence or two about connecting to his or her history-making character, and each of the 26 actors obliged with researched references and anecdotes -- all of which came as no surprise to director Ted Pappas.
"They are always writing down notes in rehearsal, and they come in with things that they've read, they've Googled or seen on TV. My desk is piled with things from the cast that they've given me about American history and their characters."
Here's what the cast had to say about their characters -- the signers of the Declaration of Independence and some of the people in their orbit. (Actors are listed in alphabetical order, with character names in parentheses.)
John Allen Biles (Lewis Morris): Lewis Morris of New York was a man of vast wealth and property; however he was a patriot with the zeal for American independence, even while his state was against it and initially abstained from voting for independence. A man of lofty stature, Morris was known to be extremely generous, benevolent and dignified.
Paul Binotto (Robert Livingston): In "1776" Robert Livingston is a congressman from New York City. He is the "Tom Hayden" to Congressman Morris from New York.
Jeffrey Carpenter (John Hancock): John Hancock was the wealthiest man in Massachusetts and also a bit of a dandy, known to ride around in a golden chariot. A ship merchant, he was considered an agitator by British forces well before 1776. When in 1768 British troops attempted to seize his ship (named, ironically, Liberty) for allegedly smuggling Madeira wine, they were assaulted by a Colonial mob. The main purpose of Paul Revere's famous ride was to warn Hancock and Samuel Adams that the British were on their way to arrest them as terrorists.
Jeremy Czarniak (James Wilson): He was a lawyer, part of the Pennsylvania delegation, and a pivotal figure in the signing of the Declaration of Independence. After serving in Congress he was appointed to the very first Supreme Court by George Washington.
Jarrod DiGiorgi (Rev. John Witherspoon): John Witherspoon was a Presbyterian minister and president of the College of New Jersey, which is now Princeton University.
Joseph Domencic (Charles Thomson): Charles Thomson was universally regarded for his dedication to the Continental Congress. He remained secretary throughout its existence. In the musical "1776," we hear him manage the voting and deliver the news from the front, reading Gen. Washington's descriptive and often disturbing dispatches from New York.
Darren Eliker (John Dickinson): He was the leader of the Moderates. Their challenge was how to justify and support preparations for war while continuing to work fiercely for reconciliation with England as the Colonies would not win a contest with England. Dickinson believed strongly that England had squandered its chances to make favorable political inroads with the Colonies but also felt that [John] Adams had publicly undercut chances that would have made reconciliation possible. Known as the Penman of the Revolution, he ironically provided the Colonies with the intellectual and moral justification for rebelling against England.
James Fitzgerald (Caesar Rodney): Caesar Rodney was a member of Congress, a brigadier general and duly famous for his 80-mile overnight ride to attend the vote on the Declaration of Independence (no mean feat and commemorated on the Delaware state quarter!). But in the context of "1776," Rodney is dying from cancer. The journey to return to Congress could kill him. It highlights the commitment and cost to all of the members. The character of Rodney illustrates the price they were willing to pay in order to establish this new idea.
Justin Fortunato (Leather Apron): I don't play a real person. Leather Apron is the janitor in the Congressional Congress and represents a working man. He doesn't have to go out and fight, even though he wants to.
Robert Frankenberry (George Read): As a procedural conservative, George Read is a great example of the personal conflict many of the signers struggled with during the debate. Although he voted against Virginia's resolution on independence on the grounds that it was hasty and imprudent, once the Declaration was approved, he signed with all the commitment of the sponsors. He became deeply involved in the debate structuring the new government, particularly as a proponent of equal representation for each state.
Tim Hartman (Col. Thomas McKean): He is Scottish, and a man totally ruled by his passions. He reacts emotionally to everything. He's the kind of guy who can't hide how he feels. So, the phrase "flying off the handle" is an apt description of his role in this musical. Where there are reasoned disagreements on independence, McKean will be found in the corner plotting how he can physically force his opponents to agree to his point of view. But he also has a very tender heart for his ailing fellow Delaware representative, Caesar Rodney. It's that relationship that really allows the audience to see a fully realized person in McKean.
Keith Hines (Thomas Jefferson): Thomas Jefferson was a man impressively well-versed in matters such as science, religion, architecture, invention and philosophy. He spoke five languages fluently, was the author of the Declaration of Independence, and the third president of our United States. The more I learn about Jefferson, the more I realize he is truly one of the greatest men in our country's history.
Daniel Krell (Dr. Lyman Hall): There is no mention of it in the show, but the real Dr. Lyman Hall, the delegate from Georgia, was actually originally from Connecticut. I decided to use a slight Southern dialect instead of a New England dialect to avoid confusion since we only hear mention of Georgia.
Jason McCune (Andrew McNair): Andrew McNair is an enigma. While it is known that he and the secretary, Charles Thomson, were the only paid employees of the Congress, there is little biographical information to be had. It is also known that he was fired a few months after the Declaration was signed, but the reason is unknown. McNair is a laborer charged with the care and upkeep of the congressional chamber and its members and winds up with a ringside seat to the trials and characters that forge the blueprint for e pluribus unum -- out of many, one.
George Merrick (John Adams): From Massachusetts, John Adams was a fiery and brilliant visionary with a reputation for being "obnoxious and disliked." Despite his sometimes combative and impatient manner, he was a leading advocate for American independence.
Eric Meyers (The Courier): My character is the youngest in the show. He brings George Washington's dispatches to the Continental Congress so they can be updated on the war. Although there were many more dispatches, the show deals with only five of them. My character is simply known as The Courier. In the show he gives a personal account of a battle he took part in.
Larry John Meyers (Samuel Chase): An American-born lawyer and "firebrand revolutionary" from Annapolis, Samuel Chase represented Maryland at the Continental Congress from 1774-78. He was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court by George Washington in 1796 and his failed impeachment in 1805 (incited by President Thomas Jefferson, who by then was a fervent political adversary) helped ensure the independence of the federal judiciary. He is the only U.S. Supreme Court justice to have been impeached, but he was acquitted.
Trista Moldovan (Abigail Adams): In our age of cell phones, email and Skype, you really appreciate the beautiful letters of devotion Abigail and John wrote to each other while they were apart for months, even years at a time. She was on equal intellectual footing with him and was a champion for the women's vote -- truly ahead of her time!
Scott P. Sambuco (Dr. Josiah Bartlett): He was born in Amesbury, Mass., and was a scholar of Greek, Latin and medicine. By the age of 21, he moved to Kingston, N.H., to open a successful medical practice.
John Scherer (Richard Henry Lee): In real life, he was a statesman from Virginia and is best known as the man who introduced the proposal on American independence. In the musical he is presented as loud, boisterous and larger than life. I have no idea why Ted thought of me.
Libby Servais (Martha Jefferson): She was the devoted and very much in love wife of Thomas Jefferson. Although she died at the early age of 33, she was a vivacious young woman who joyfully embraced the life she lived.
Gordon Stanley (Stephen Hopkins): The real Stephen Hopkins has very little to do with the character in "1776," other than the facts that he was one of the oldest members, he was from Rhode Island, and he famously wore a broad-brimmed hat. There is very little evidence that he drank immoderately, although most people drank more alcohol than we do today because it was safer than drinking water. He was in fact both somewhat of a polymath (surveyor, successful businessman, judge, governor of R.I, pamphleteer) and, dear to my heart, the first chancellor of the school that later became Brown University, of which I'm a graduate. Favorite anecdote not in the play: He had palsy and signed the Declaration holding his right hand with his left and saying that his "hand was shaking but not his heart."
Hayden Tee (Edward Rutledge): At the age of 26, he was the youngest to sign the Declaration of Independence. Representing South Carolina in Congress, while he was an antagonist to John Adams, he was a champion for individual states rights.
Louis S. Valenzi (Joseph Hewes): The delegate from North Carolina was a Princeton graduate and a crafty businessman. Hewes moved to North Carolina to establish a successful shipping company, served in the Continental Congress from 1775-79, and eventually became secretary of the Navy of the newly formed United States before he died at age 50.
Steve Vinovich (Benjamin Franklin): He was a printer, inventor and ambassador. He created the first fire department and the first library, discovered electricity, and invented the stove and bifocals. His motto was, "Do good for others." He also loved wine, women, food, conversation and music. Ben had a great sense of humor and once wrote a dissertation on flatulence.
Stephen Wilde (Roger Sherman): Roger Sherman is about integrity, logic, compassion and honesty. He is the only man to sign all four important American documents: the Continental Association, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation and the United States Constitution. He was admitted to the bar without a formal legal education. Thomas Jefferson once said about him, "That is Mr. Sherman, of Connecticut, a man who never said a foolish thing in his life."theater