By Elisabeth Vincentelli
Lin-Manuel Miranda is a character, and his hit musical is a punching bag, in Ishmael Reed’s didactic play about historical correctness.
In the four years since his musical “Hamilton” first opened at the Public Theater, Lin-Manuel Miranda has become one of America’s most successful and ubiquitous entertainers. There he is, serenading President Obama at the White House, triumphantly taking his show to a recovering Puerto Rico, portraying a chimney sweep in “Mary Poppins Returns.” And, in a true sign that he has made it to the top of the celebrity mountain, Mr. Miranda has proactively counterpunched potential critiques by playing comedic versions of himself, most notably in “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”
One way we have not seen him, however, is as a lazy, gullible dumdum — which is how he is portrayed in Ishmael Reed’s show “The Haunting of Lin-Manuel Miranda,” currently at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe.
That’s actually a pretty sympathetic take, considering how little Mr. Reed thinks of “Hamilton,” which he accuses of, among other things, turning a blind eye to the Schuyler family’s ownership of slaves and soft-pedaling Alexander Hamilton’s elitist politics and his attitude toward slavery. Mr. Reed’s views are shared by a range of historians, but he is deploying them by using an art form, theater, that only sets up unflattering comparisons to Mr. Miranda’s work — at least judged purely in terms of form rather than content.
In the play, Lin-Manuel (Jesse Bueno), his senses possibly altered by Ambien, is visited by the kind of people left out of “Hamilton”: slaves, Native Americans, Harriet Tubman (Roz Fox). As if in a cross between “A Christmas Carol” and a trial at The Hague’s International Criminal Court, each of the witnesses lectures Miranda on the reality behind the audience-friendly Broadway razzmatazz. Mr. Bueno spends a large part of the show looking befuddled as his character is being schooled.