John Adams
Learn about President John Adams and his family. Photo by Getty Images

The Boston Athenæum, one of the oldest membership libraries in the nation, is making historical text come alive this week with “Four Generations of the Adams Family,” presented by the Poets’ Theatre.

 

Written by David Gullette, Professor Emeritus at Simmons College and Literary Director at the Poets’ Theatre, and directed by Robert Scanlan, Professor of English at Harvard University, this staged reading will depict four generations of the Adams family starting with John and Abigail Adams down to their great-grandson Henry Adams. Viewers will have a chance to witness the immense impact of this monumental family through a more intimate lens, with the power of language taking center stage.

 

“The performance will be pure Poets' Theatre,” says Gullette.  “[The staged reading] is spoken by professional actors with resonance and respect, rather than on fancy costumes and sets.”

 

Audience members will begin their journey by immersing themselves in Abigail and John Adams’s epistolary exchanges during first few decades of their marriage. Gullette explains that these communications happened while John Adams was guiding the nation’s creation and his wife stayed at home to tend to the farm and their children. One of these children, John Quincy Adams, becomes the focus of the next section of the performance, which starts out in his childhood but then centers on his abolitionist activism in Congress in his later years.

 

The penultimate portion introduces John Quincy Adam’s son Charles Francis and his ambassadorial life in England during the Civil War, and the reading ends by discussing Henry Adams’s life and 20th century canonical texts, “Mont St. Michel and Chartres and The Education of Henry Adams.”

A notable moment from the show, to further entice those who are intrigued, include Abigail Adams’s proto-feminist remarks to her husband where she reminds him to “Remember the Ladies” in this newly developing nation. Gullette also points out a fun fact in which great-grandson Henry Adams rents a winter villa in Cuba near GuantánamoBay. Actors Hilary Rappaport and Owen Doyle, who Gullette describes as “literate, intelligent people who have been crucial in helping me slim down and streamline the script,” should convince anyone to snatch up a ticket for this upcoming event.

As Gullette says, “You don't have to be an American History wonk to enjoy these kick-ass moments in the history of our country and of this extraordinary family.”

If you go:

June 8, 6 p.m., Boston Athenæum, 10 ½ Beacon St., Boston Athenæum Members and Poets' Theatre supporters $25, Non-members $30, bostonathenaeum.org