Bucks County Herald

Kathryn Finegan Clark: By the Way

Professional to the core

A contemplative Benjamin Franklin, played by Christopher Black, considers his next chess move as he plots the future of the colonies. Black is artistic director, actor and founder of the Bachmann Players in Easton.

A hush falls over the audience. “It is solidly built and we hope it will last many years,” innkeeper Jacob Bachmann tells Benjamin Franklin, William Parsons and others gathered to hear the news from Thomas Penn.

It is September 1752, only seven months after Northampton County has split off from Bucks, and William Penn’s eldest son, is offering building lots for sale. He wants a frontier village to rise at the Forks of the Lehigh and Delaware rivers.

Bachmann, long gone, needn’t have worried. His Bachmann’s Publick House, a tavern and Northampton County’s first courthouse, lovingly restored, survives him. It is one of Easton’s most handsome historic buildings and the scene of Colonial dinner theater plays presented by the Bachmann Players.

The hardy group of about three dozen volunteers, amateur historians and actors, has been brought to life by Christopher Black, a lively and multi-talented actor of seemingly boundless energy, who has researched, written, directed, produced and acted in all previous Bachmann productions.

Last year the players presented “Easton in Crisis, 1755.” Earlier I attended the players’ “An Evening with John Adams,” and loved it. Black played the feisty Adams, bouncing back and forth through doorways, uttering fiery words, during a dramatic and delicious way to absorb a little real and local history.

After that experience I can no longer go to Easton and think of it as just another small city. Big things happened there. They still do – the Colonial dinner theater is unique.

The Players, now in their fourth season, are rehearsing for “Easton, 1752: The Founding of a Frontier Village,” with dinner performances scheduled June 2, 10 and 18 at the historic tavern on Northampton Street.

The entire performance takes place as an authentic three-course Colonial dinner is being served by a costumed wait staff in two connected dining rooms. Diners step back in time as they watch Parsons, considered Easton’s founder, his friend, the chess-playing Franklin, and other notables, wrangle over Penn’s proposition.

After his disastrous Walking Purchase in 1737, he is not the most popular personage and the town fathers have much to resolve, including negotiating with the once friendly Lenape, now angered by Penn’s notorious land grab.

Black plays Franklin; Michael Hollingsworth portrays Parsons and Robert Thena is Bachmann. The all-volunteer troupe members work on all aspects of the productions. Among them are Black’s wife, Patricia Burton, and her brother, Doug Burton.

Black himself is kind of a one-man drama band. He researches, writes, produces, directs and acts in his plays, just as the great 17th-century French playwright and actor Moliere did.

He confesses he loves “digging into” the past and helping the audience to share the story and understand the significance that might have eluded them. The costumes are period-appropriate and some are made especially for the actors. Franklin’s costume, for one, was created by a local seamstress after Black found the right fabric for her to use.

Also, for the current production, for example, Black went to Harrisburg to look at the original map of Easton drawn up by Thomas Penn.

Nothing less would satisfy the artistic director. He is that careful with his historical facts, admitting only infrequently to taking a little “artistic liberty.” Even then he often explains that slight bow to dramatic impact over truth to the audience after the show.

And speaking of bows, actor Black has been taking them for years.

He went to Bennington College where he studied history, literature and theater. He then studied and taught in London, Wales, Greece and Portugal, before spending two years with the National Shakespeare Company in New York City, where he received a certificate for performing arts and stage performance.

He spent a dozen years with the Jean Cocteau Repertory, a theater company in Manhattan known for its serious performances, before leaving in 2004.

Black is outspokenly, and rightly, proud of the quality of the Bachmann Players productions. “Our company runs on joy,” he said. We respect our people and they respect our projects.”

Seating for the performances is limited. The Bachmann Players partner with the Sigal Museum and the Northampton County Historical and Genealogical Society.

More information and tickets at sigalmuseum.org/events.




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