Maj. Ron Duquette, 65, lives in Lorton, Va. He was in Army intelligence for 20 years — useful for his historical interpretations. “Never go into a situation unbriefed,” he says.
Albert Gallatin was the secretary of the Treasury under Presidents Jefferson and Madison. So. Um. What situations require an Albert Gallatin impersonator?
If you’re talking about certain specific events in our history — Louisiana Purchase, War of 1812, Treaty of Ghent, the Whiskey Rebellion, the debate about establishment of the Bank of the United States. Odd things — the Jefferson hotel had just gone through a refurbishment and they wanted to dedicate a Gallatin Room. The Swiss Embassy was sponsoring this event. There was a musical quartet that came from Switzerland to play. They had a 400-pound bust of Gallatin carved in ice!
So the Swiss know who he is.
Very much so. He was from Geneva.
Are you worried that your interpretation might conflict with the intuitive understanding most Americans have for the image, mannerisms, persona, speech patterns, general bearing of Albert Gallatin? Can you compete with the Albert Gallatin in our hearts?
We don’t even have Albert Gallatin in our minds, much less in our hearts. And so the interpretation that I bring is not something I concern myself [with] about blowing someone’s mind. Because they don’t have a preconceived notion of who Albert Gallatin is.
What’s your advice for future Gallatin impersonators?
You have to be careful you don’t just become a crate full of facts. There has to be a human element. You have to have stories. For example, the first time he meets George Washington. Washington calls a meeting of elders of the district so they can figure out where they’re going to cut a road. Gallatin happens to be staying in the cabin that Washington decides to use for his meeting. So he’s sitting there, this 23-year-old; he’s listening to all these graybeards. And finally in fine 23-year-old impatience, he stands up and says, “It’s very clear the road should be cut here,” and points to a place on the map. As I tell the story, I say, “The room fell into absolute silence. I had committed an unpardonable sin. I had interrupted His Excellency, who fixed me with his basilisk stare, and I began to feel the tips of my fingers and toes hardening into stone.”
You’re using a French accent.
C’était complètement naturel pour moi. Gallatin’s English was not great.
The tips of the fingers and toes, that’s all you?
Personal question: It looks to me like you have more hair than Mr. Gallatin.
That’s because I shave it off when it’s time for a performance.
You shave yourself a bald spot in order to be accurate and keep the rest long?
I originally had a wig; it was horrible. My wife said, “Why don’t you just shave your head?” I said, “Would you be okay with that?” She said, “Sure, I know what it’s for.” My wife and I met doing community theater in Germany, so she’s aware of the things you do for the art.