Nothing quite puts today’s national political election is perspective like Slave Narratives. This production is a fascinating montage of voices, experiences, and resilience of captured Africans and their survival stories in these United States. Two excellent actors provide firsthand accounts of individual experiences and thus bring this “peculiar institution” to life.
What makes this production work better than most is the range of material covered, solid delivery by the actors, and great direction-it is in fact, written by Ed Shockley and directed by Larry Moten, and stars them both. Shockley’s script helps make history real and brings it home, close enough to reach out and touch. His snippets from the horrendous Middle Passage pull no punches with details of misery that defy imagination which his character describes in quiet, cool and dispassionate tones-very effective. Runaway slave notices about escaped chattel, the mind-numbing indoctrination of slavery, and other historical passages, including a depiction of the carnage from Nat Turner’s rebellion–which occurred not far from this metro area– are not for the faint hearted or thin skinned.
Along with historical references to Native Americans, and even a touching recurring theme relating the ongoing years of confinement, oppression, and eventual liberation of Nelson Mandela, Shockley counterbalances the horrific with the artistic and humorous. For example, Moten gives a stirring sermon as a slave preacher who gets caught up in God’s deliverance of the children of Israel out of Egypt and slavery. But, he has to constantly censor himself, lest he be perceived as rousing up the slaves, vintage Paul Lawrence Dunbar. Also, the two perform a rendition of self-deprecating humor that hints at early black vaudeville routines. The time shifting works where the actors take on an assortment of characters, including a particularly touching passage about the aftershocks of the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
Slave Narratives Revisited is a steady drumbeat of recognition and awareness to serve up these precious nuggets of history. With a soundtrack filled with the always soul stirring Sweet Honey and the Rock, this production helps to amplify these usually silent and muted voices from America’s past. These experiences must not be shelved away as irrelevant and forgotten. Slavery shaped the look, fortunes and realities of every aspect of this country and Slave Narratives Revisited helps us work through the horrific passages to get to the Celebration of Freedom together.
- Running Time: 60 minutes
- Tickets: Slave Narratives Revisited
- Final Remaining Show: Sunday July 27 at 4
- Where: Studio Theater, Stage 4, 1501 14th Street, N.W.