IMAGE: Owen Carey
OK, I know what you’re thinking. Ben Franklin: Unplugged? When did PCS get into the historical impersonation business?
Don’t worry—this is no after-school special. Josh Kornbluth, a Bay Area monologuist who earns his bread with long, nebbishy rants, isn’t here to recite the highlights of Franklin’s life and interminable supply of pithy quips. His interest in the “First American” is entirely self-serving: Kornbluth’s brand of performance revolves around the relation of interesting personal history, and, at 50, he’s run out of interesting stories to tell. Then, one morning, while shaving, he realizes he has lost enough hair and gained enough girth to resemble the man on the hundred-dollar bill and, at the urging of a particularly forceful aunt, considers creating a Franklin-centric stage show.
So far, all of Kornbluth’s monologues, no matter their ostensible topic, have eventually come around to his relationship with his father, a New York public school teacher and dyed-in-the-wool communist who died, suddenly and unexpectedly, during his son’s senior year at Princeton. This is the sort of trauma that colors one’s perceptions for life, so it’s no surprise Kornbluth really gets interested in Franklin’s story only when he discovers the man had an illegitimate son, William Franklin, who was, contrary to his father’s wishes, the colonial governor of New Jersey. It’s not long before Kornbluth finds himself struggling to sort through academic rivalries, popular myth and Franklin’s own self-aggrandizement in hopes of understanding the complicated relationship between the revolutionary father and Tory son. Along the way he meets a mildly crazy Franklin scholar, gallivants around Manhattan in a Franklin costume, gets revenge on Yale University and, of course, winds up thinking about his dad.
All this, delivered at considerable volume with much thrashing of arms and spraying of spittle by a short, pudgy bald man wearing black jeans and a terrible Hawaiian shirt adorned with blue sunflowers. Kornbluth’s persona is a schlemiel in the classic mold, but he—like all comedians feigning incompetence—is cannier than he looks, and his toying with the self-generated myth of Franklin is a blast to watch. Just watch out if you’re sitting in the front row; you might get blasted yourself.
SEE IT: Gerding Theater, 128 NW 11th Ave., 445-3700. 7:30 pm Tuesdays-Saturdays, 2 pm Sundays, noon Thursdays, alternating 2 pm Saturday and 7:30 pm Sunday shows. Closes Nov. 22. $24-$45, $20 day-of-show rush tickets available.