Presidential 'interpreters' dine at Treaty of Paris

December 31, 1992|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Staff Writer

In the middle of their romantic dinner by candlelight, Marti and Dan Pogonowski were interrupted by a politician talking a smooth line and holding a glass of wine in his hand. They glanced up in annoyance, then did a double take.

Was it so dim inside the Annapolis inn, or was that really George Washington?

"You're looking radiant this evening," said the Army general, bending gallantly over Mrs. Pogonowski's hand.

The Pogonowskis of Kent Island were among several dozen diners at the Treaty of Paris Restaurant in downtown Annapolis who were entertained by actors portraying George Washington and Thomas Jefferson last night.

Dressed in lacy shirts, long blue coats and britches, William Barker and William Sommerfield walked from table to table discussing politics and the Revolutionary War. Mr. Sommerfield, a 62-year-old with a striking resemblance to the father of the country, was celebrating his victory at Yorktown, Va., and debating whether to run for president.

The nationally known historic actors, or "interpreters" as they call themselves, were in Maryland's Colonial capital to sup on oysters and prepare for First Night Annapolis.

They will perform a skit tonight at the city's annual festival of the performing arts, which draws thousands of revelers to toast the arrival of the New Year with nary a drop of alcohol.

Annapolis has a long and colorful association with both former presidents. George Washington danced in the upstairs meeting room at City Hall, and Thomas Jefferson frequently stopped by to visit friends on his trips to Philadelphia.

It is said that George Washington was once caught in bed with another man's wife at Reynolds Tavern, a historic inn that recently reopened on Church Circle. But Mr. Sommerfield discredited the tale, saying scandalous stories about the president were spread by the British during the war for independence and have never been proven.

"They've searched the records in minutest detail and never found one iota of infidelity," Mr. Sommerfield said. Still, he acknowledged that the commander of the Continental Army had his flaws. Thin-skinned and quick to take offense, George Washington once had severe outbursts of temper before he learned to curb himself, the actor said.

Mr. Barker, a 39-year-old redhead with a serious demeanor, plays Thomas Jefferson, the architect, statesman and intellectual who became the nation's third president in 1801.

"I've always been fascinated by him [Jefferson]," said Mr. Barker, who joined Mr. Sommerfield in the Philadelphia-based American Historical Theater troupe seven years ago.

Unlike George Washington, the man who built Monticello preferred studying philosophy over politics and was not a military success, Mr. Barker said. But the two men were close friends, despite their differing interests and a 10-year age gap.

Both actors have spent so much time in their presidential roles that they are easily mistaken for the men they portray -- even out of costume.

Mr. Sommerfield, who is the same height and weight as George Washington was, only has to curl his white hair to look like the general. Mr. Barker says his features are less Celtic than Mr. Jefferson's were, but audiences are easily fooled.

Last night, the diners at the inn were dazzled by the actors' wit. "It just brings all those historical facts that I thought I would never remember bubbling forward," said Dale Logan. With a big smile, his wife, Nancy, added, "We're celebrating our sixth anniversary. We weren't expecting these guests."

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