Celebrities put a fresh spin on Declaration

Thursday July 5, 2012

WILLIAMSTOWN -- In writing the Declaration of Independence, the authors served up a laundry list of King George III's wrongs done onto the 13 original U.S. colonies.

Among them: "He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good," and "He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people."

On Wednesday, comic performer, author and social critic Lewis Black presented his own interpretation of the British response: "Wah. Wah. Wah."

Black was joined by fellow Williamstown Theatre Festival actors Heather Lind (HBO's "Boardwalk Empire") and Finn Wittrock (Broadway's "Death of a Salesman"), to present a reading of the founding documents, an annual town tradition.

Between 200 and 300 people turn out each year -- this year on the lawn of the Williams College Museum of Art -- to enjoy the free reading, which has been presented in partnership with the theater company for the past few decades.

According to assistant librarian Wayne Hammond, an original copy of the De claration was purchased by Chapin Library at Williams College in 1983 at an auction, and is currently on display with other authentic materials in the museum.

During the event, Finn and Wittrock alternated reading from the Declaration, parts which elicited some cheers and a "hear, hear" from the crowd. The British replies from the Howe brothers (Sept. 19, 1776) and King George's response (Oct. 31, 1776), were delivered by Black in a jestful condescending tone, to which the audience modestly responded with "boos" and hissing.

After Black read the final words of his majesty's speech, "My Desire is to restore to them the Blessings of Law and Liberty, equally enjoyed by every British Subject, which they have fatally and desperately exchanged for all the Calamaties of War, and the arbitrary Tyranny of their Chiefs," Wittrock retorted with an, "Are you done yet?" He then read the preamble to the U.S. Constitution.

David Michael and his son Steven Michael, who were visiting from Wayland, are both fans of Black.

"That was definitely a draw," said Steven, smiling at a photo of himself with the actor, taken with an iPhone camera. But they also said they appreciated hearing the reading and then being able to see the documents in the museum.

Sheryl Weitz of Williams town, who attended the event with her two elementary school-aged daughters, Tal and Shani, and her husband Ted, called it a "very heroic reading" and part of what made for a "quintessential" Fourth of July in Williamstown.

The Billsville festivities also included a parade, jazz concert, barbecue and a partnership with the North Adams Steeplecats baseball game and fireworks.


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