THEATER REVIEW: “The Tarnation of Russell Colvin” @ Hubbard Hall [Berkshire on Stage]
Review by Gail M. Burns
Photograph by Riikka Olson
Russell Colvin of Manchester, Vermont, was a real man. And the story told by actor Oliver Wadsworth in his one-man show, The Tarnation of Russell Colvin, is, for the most part, true.
Russell Colvin either was, or was not, murdered by his brothers-in-law, Stephen and Jesse Boorn, in East Manchester, Vermont, in 1812. If he wasn’t murdered then, he either did, or did not, return to town in 1819 alive and well. The case, in which the Boorn brothers were accused of his murder and sentenced to hang, was well documented at the time, and has continued to garner attention on and off in the 200+ years since. Wadsworth has not only resurrected several fascinating aspects of this story, but presents them in the style of the popular itinerate solo performers of that day, many of whom undoubtedly played at Hubbard Hall in Cambridge, in front of the same painted backdrops that grace this production.
And so this is a show about a performer performing as a performer of yesteryear, and, Wadsworth and director Kirk Jackson posit, performing as the performer who may have returned to Manchester in 1819 in the role of Russell Colvin.
Truth is always stranger than fiction, and our ancestors prove just as obstinate, sly and susceptible as we are. The people who wrote their sides of this story, or who were written about – there was national contemporary newspaper coverage, two eye-witness accounts, and a thriller by Wilkie Collins loosely based on the case – are colorful enough, and Wadsworth tells their story through the eyes of Russell Colvin’s favorite son, Rufus, who witnessed his father’s beating at the hands of his uncles.