Suck It, Hambone: “Peggy Shippen is… a play about the wife of Benedict Arnold”

Queen’s own photo from Chelsea Theatre Works.

Peggy Shippen is… a play about the wife of Benedict Arnold
Presented as part of the Resident Artist Program at Chelsea Theatre Works.
Written by Libby Schap & Luke Robbins
Featuring: Lauren Foster, Lisa Joyce, Molly Kimmerling, Libby Schap

March 4-12, 2022
Fridays and Saturdays @8PM
Chelsea Theatre Works in the Black Box Theatre
189 Winnisimmet Street
Chelsea, MA 02150

Covid19 policy: masks & vaccination are required

Review by Kitty Drexel

CHELSEA, Mass. — Naked lightbulbs hang from scaffolding over a raw black box stage. Their pull-chains gently sway from the motion of patrons choosing their seats. The naked stage leaves lots of room for the performance of Peggy Shippen is…, an enigmatic new play that’s running about ten minutes late.  

Peggy Shippen is… a play about the wife of Benedict Arnold is a little weird, a lot unusual, and not boring. It borrows from Hamilton’s leftover hype and sidles up to the creative demands of Jordan Tannahill’s Theatre of the Unimpressed

Benedict Arnold was a traitorous coward who sold out the US to the British during the American Revolution. It is believed that Margaret “Peggy” Shippen worked with hubby in exchange for cold, hard cash. When Arnold’s treason was discovered, Peggy threw an epic tantrum that history refers to as her “mad scene.” 

Was Peggy complicit or was she just another pawn in Britain’s evil plan for literal world domination? Did she have a mental breakdown or a breakthrough? Did she really bone Alexander Hamilton? Four brave persons examine the evidence, play out the scenarios, and molest an innocent chair in a court of misrule. Peggy Shippen is… reveals the truth behind this 1780s Real Housewife of Philadelphia.   

Peggy Shippen Is… is the reincarnation of 2020’s Peggy & the Mad Scenes. It tickles the dank cockles of my heart to know that this play is receiving the opening it deserves. One that is untarnished by the coronavirus’ quarantine infamy. 

It’s clear that the writers and the cast think of Peggy Shippen as an actual person with thoughts and feelings – unlike the men who dictated the war and controlled what went into our history books. The cast and crew show us their irreverence for history through silly skits and modern slang. It’s fun in the same manner as successful improv games and the original works of local fringe company imaginary beasts. 

The only drawback to this show is the intense echo of the black box theatre. Whether it was the shameful lack of bodies in the audience on Friday night or the expanse of the ceiling, the actors’ voices were swallowed by the space. As soon as they turned their heads or bodies, their voices muffled. We lost some good one-liners and pithy dialogue. 

It wasn’t the casts’ fault. They were doing their gosh darndest to be heard. What Chelsea Theatre Works needs is some overstuffed prop couches for stage left and right, curtains to hang on the walls, or panels that descend from the ceiling. These will prevent actors from working too hard and may bring an ambiance to the barren room.    

Peggy Shippen is… will remind attendees why the process should not be trusted*. If you crave theatre that takes risks but has you home before 11 PM, this show is for you. Those seeking theatrical fare beyond the routine structure and security of conventional plays should buy their tickets now. 

Peggy Shippen is… runs about an hour. There is a bar but beverages are not sold in this theatre space with dubious ventilation.  Because, that is how COVID wins. There is a Dunkin’ down the street. 

This program is supported in part by a grant from the Chelsea Cultural Council, a local agency, which is supported by the Mass Cultural Council, a state agency.

*Every time someone says to “trust the process,” God punches a mime in the taint. 

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