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The Two Faces of Tom Plott

Who is that man?

Dr. James Craik was George Washington’s personal physician and closest friend. The Hermit has been a mainstay at the Maryland Renaissance Festival for 30 years. Both are brought to life by interpreter Tom Plott.

Each morning as he brews his coffee, long-time Arnold resident Tom Plott asks himself: Who am I today?
    Well, if it’s Thursday, he’s likely to be Dr. James Craik, George Washington’s closest friend and personal physician. The good doctor often roams George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate in Northern Virginia on weekdays, regaling visitors with stories about his beloved friend.
    Tom, you see, manages the First Person program and portrays historic characters at Washington’s home.
    On Saturdays and Sundays this time of year, though, Tom Plott dons the mismatched shoes of The Hermit to prowl the grounds of Crownsville’s Maryland Renaissance Festival. He works as an actor and performance director there as well.
    The man has many faces.

The Makings of Everyman
    Tom Plott may try to attribute his success to luck. After all, the acting profession is notorious for trapping its wannabes in a hamster wheel of sporadic unemployment.
    I don’t buy it. To put it simply, the man’s a natural.
    His rich, mellow voice and hearty laugh make for instant crowd appeal. He can master difficult dialects. The skits he writes, directs and performs say that Tom Plott can masterfully draw upon his instincts to create an imaginary yet believable world. He’s versatile, too; ask him and he’ll do it.
    He also realizes the importance of training and hard work.
    Tom studied drama at the University of Georgia, graduating in 1985.
    After one summer job at an outdoor theater, he was hired as an actor by the Maryland Renaissance Festival and, for its sake, moved to Arnold. He has worked at that festival since, for 30 of its 40-year history, rising to the rank of performance director.
    In his spare time, Tom has worked for other Renaissance festivals and, since 2008, has directed Mount Vernon’s First Person program.
    Today, at the Maryland festival, he helps cast musicians and train performers, assisting them as they research and develop their characters, write scripts and rehearse. He also writes, acts and directs comedy skits and choreographs fight scenes.
    His special love, though, is portraying the festival’s hermit.

One and the Same
    It is a beautiful, fall Saturday in Crownsville. Alone for the day, I head out to enjoy the smorgasbord of food and entertainment at the Maryland Renaissance Festival.
    Throngs of festival enthusiasts have the same idea. Jumping right in, I make the rounds of eateries, shops and stage performances, caught up in the party atmosphere, enjoying the sounds, the smells and the array of costumes.
    By the Maypole, I encounter The Hermit. This grungy guy needs no further introduction because he has no name. He has no use for one, for no hermit needs to address himself. He goes about, well, charming festival visitors.
    “Hi, people!” he grunts at passersby.
    Perhaps unsure how to react, some folks ignore him; others erupt into laughter.
    I watch and listen, fascinated by his magnetism.
    Then comes a flash of déjà vu.

~   ~   ~   ~   ~

    It was at Christmas time several years back, at Mount Vernon’s Holiday Candlelight Tour. During our mansion walk-through, my group of visitors stepped into the general’s private study.
    There he stood, smiling into the sconces, an 18th century gentleman bedecked in his holiday best. Bowing low, he welcomed us in a Scottish brogue, introducing himself as Dr. James Craik, Washington’s dearest friend and personal physician — who I now recognize as The Hermit of the Maryland Renaissance Festival. The men are one and the same.
    Dr. Craik spoke eloquently of Washington’s life, of the friendship they share.
    Spellbound, I listened, believing I stood in the presence of James Craik.
    Later, stepping outside the mansion, I asked an interpretive guide who had been portraying Dr. Craik.
    “Oh, that’s Tom Plott,” she said. “He directs our character interpreters.”

~   ~   ~   ~   ~

    My mind returns me to the Renaissance Festival. I lean toward The Hermit, to whisper, “Is your name Tom Plott?”
    The Hermit seems unfazed.
    I try again. “I saw you at Mount Vernon, as Dr. Craik.”
    The Hermit smiles but does not reply.
    Banging his stick on the ground, he bares his choppers and hoots at two passing women: You know you love me!
    Blushing, giggling like schoolgirls, they hurry away.
    Smiling, I quit trying. Bidding my furry friend adieu, I head for my car.
    On the way home, I realize I’m still smiling, thinking about The Hermit of the Maryland Renaissance Festival.
    Have I been charmed?

Everyday Tom
    I stroll into a pizza restaurant on Ritchie Highway in Severna Park. I notice the tables. I think how much nicer they would look if set with a red-and-white-checkered tablecloth, topped with a Chianti bottle candelabra.
    A booming laugh splits the air — Tom Plott’s unmistakable laugh. I spot him at a corner table, talking with his tablemates. He is wearing jeans, a burgundy T-shirt and a faded jacket. On the table before him is a sausage pizza.
    The spell is broken.


See for Yourself

Maryland Renaissance Festival continues weekends through October 23, 10am-7pm, rain or shine: Revel Grove, Crownsville, $24 w/age discounts, www.rennfest.com.

George Washington’s Mount Vernon welcomes visitors 365 days a year, 9am-5pm (4pm after Nov. 1): Mt. Vernon, Virginia, $20 w/discounts, www.mountvernon.org.