ONE GATHERS from Josh Kornbluth's new monologue, Ben Franklin: Unplugged, that in life as in monologue, all you need is a hook. Kornbluth's hook arrived during a period of great lassitude for the performer, Kornbluth having, as he puts it, "lost the vector" of his life. One morning, he looked in the mirror to realize he'd come to resemble none other than founding father Benjamin Franklin. Here in his account, Kornbluth pauses, and poses—yes, there's a resemblance, not least in the distinctive balding pattern. And thus, a monologue is born.
Kornbluth's initial impetus for researching Franklin is in trying to find sufficient information to do a decent impression for an MSNBC special. The more he researches, though, the more he finds parallels between Franklin's relationship with his son (prior to the Revolution, Franklin's son was the royal governor of New Jersey) and Kornbluth's relationship with his own revolutionary father. His research leads him to meet some unusual characters in the Franklinography field, as well as toward the inevitable realization that whatever he thinks he knows about Ben Franklin ultimately says more about himself than about Franklin.
Kornbluth is a genuinely likeable presence, and were one, say, seated at his table at a dinner party, he'd no doubt provide some highly entertaining cocktail conversation. He's informative, too—the monologue serves as a crash course in Franklin's family life, including humiliations he suffered at the hands of the British. But rare is the monologue that can justify demanding an audience's attention for two hours, and rarer still the monologist who can deliver it. The monologue strings together several plotlines that tie together neatly, if unsurprisingly, at the show's conclusion—the payoff, when it comes, is too predictable to justify the two hours preceding it. And the writing, while occasionally funny, is more often blandly wacky—Kornbluth seems over-rehearsed, too ready to chuckle gently at his own jokes.
Portland audiences have perhaps been spoiled by Mike Daisey's several recent Portland appearances—Kornbluth's piece pales in comparison to even Daisey's workshop performances. Kornbluth's is by no means a bad show; it's just not as good as it could and should be.