Many reasons have been offered for the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, but historians rarely cite Shakespeare. In Freedom Club, however, playwright Adriano Shaplin blames the Bard. This collaboration between Philadelphia companies New Paradise Laboratories and the Riot Group is set both in 1865, just before the offing of Honest Abe, and in 2015, as a pro-choice radical prepares to shoot the female president. In the earlier half, John Wilkes Booth (Jeb Kreager) insists that rehearsing Richard II motivates his murder: “Shakespeare is making me do things lesser men can’t dream to do.”
Shaplin also owes a debt to the Bard, as demonstrated in shows such as Pugilist Specialist and Switch Triptych. His scripts combine Elizabethan syntax with vernacular profanity. When Freedom Club’s Secretary of State (Paul Schnabel) complains of the financial situation, “The garden of our sin outpaces our paper,” Lincoln (Drew Friedman) replies, “I am so fucking depressed.” This is effective schtick, though it works less well in the half set among feminist separatists in the future. The play—via Whit MacLaughlin’s fluent direction and Shaplin’s lush language—makes many trenchant observations about politics, power, and resistance. Let’s just hope it doesn’t itself spark any homicides.