Here at Brown, surrounded by young adults, it's easy to forget how recently we were all fourth-graders, prepubescent warriors in a world both innocent and terrifying, making marshmallow models of the solar system and trying not to get picked last in gym. Or, in Ben Freeman's '13 case, writing a 62-page tragedy about the Revolutionary War, replete with beggars, literal shotgun weddings and heavy usage of the epithet ‘wench.'
Freeman's elementary school opus, "Shattered: A Drama in Two Acts" was staged Saturday at Production Workshop, the grand finale to a week of activities designed to stimulate creativity and release as many inner children as possible.
"Shattered" follows the dissolution of the Thatcher family, proud Philadelphians who are brought to disgrace and depravity by the stresses of the burgeoning war against the British. Nearly all the major characters die — some by murder, some by suicide and some by tuberculosis — cursing their mothers and God and damned, filthy King George.
What makes "Shattered" so funny is the felt presence of its 10-year-old author in his touching and transparent desire to impress. Characters use every fancy vocabulary word Freeman knew, cite a social studies textbook's worth of colonial trivia and soliloquize to the heavens with alarming frequency. Alas, the slings and arrows of outrageous fourth grade! We see what he was trying to achieve as well as his delightful failure, and it makes for a roaring good time.
Yet for every clue we have into the workings of Freeman's young mind, we find another, larger mystery. What was he thinking as he typed on his mother's computer the line, "Love — it is the most versatile emotion. It can be like heaven, but all at the same time, Satan himself can rear his ugly head"? And what would the boy have thought a decade later as he heard those words delivered by the funny and very game Annie Kocher '14 to uproarious laughter? No parody could achieve this level of comedy — if an adult tried to imitate the voice of a child, and produced Freeman's wild script verbatim, it would seem like he was trying too hard.
Despite the over-wrought plot and dialogue, there are many lovely and genuine moments to be found when the actors' tongues are not lodged so firmly in cheek. Harrison Chad '14 brings a sweetness to his role as a British soldier in love with an American girl that remains even as he propositions her mother and goes on a homicidal spree at her wedding. Sam Alper '11.5 may not offer very comforting advice to a street urchin played by Daniel Stern '13, but at least he explains the definition of "opportunity" to him. And Blake Beaver's '14 solemn lullaby to his character's newborn child makes the audience still.
In his gracious opening remarks, Freeman admitted to feeling conflicted about whether or not he was betraying his fourth-grade self by presenting the piece for humor. Ultimately, he decided that laughing with his fourth-grade self — who is, after all, not very different from his present self — allowed him to undertake the project without reservation.
"Shattered" was a delight, and I'm glad Freeman decided to stage it, but it's a valid concern. Behind all the ridiculousness was a young boy who wanted very badly to connect with people through storytelling, with a frankly amazing intuitive grasp of dramatic structure. And the adult world is filled to bursting with people who are afraid to express themselves, for fear of being laughed at. As Mariagrazia LaFauci '12 frets, playing pregnant unwed Jane Thatcher, "I shudder to think what will happen to the child."