Just when you thought you’ve heard all the stories you could stand about the “peculiar institution,” this amazing tale serves as a reminder of the countless others that remain untold, tucked away, and forever buried. With a sure and steady approach to the work, Lynne Marie Brown adapted a harrowing story of Harriet A. Jacobs, a young enslaved woman whose faith and perseverance garnered her hard-won freedom. This theatrical adaptation of a slave girl’s autobiography is a treasure.
Brown’s considerable film and stage experience (including a recurring role on “Young and the Restless”) infuses her writing with a strong sense of pacing, movement, action, and in- the-moment delivery. Rather than plodding through narrative and description, she takes you to the actual plot points with unexpected twists and dramatic intrigue along the way. For example, the piece opens with her squealing and running onstage with her face buried in her hands—only when she begins her monologue do we realize that these are squeals of jubilation in her taking steps to write to Harriet Beecher Stowe about her beloved book that helped turned the tide against human captivity. Brown’s text is filled with that kind of dramatic tension; the story itself is captivating, but it’s her delivery that seals the deal for an enriching experience.
Brown is one of the most expressive actresses I’ve seen in a long time. She can hold a room spellbound whispering lines and peering into your face like there’s no one else around. The next moment she can use her strong contralto voice to shout out a warning or hum a mournful hymn. Her eyes dart fearfully around the room on the lookout for slave catchers or peer longingly towards refuge and possible safety, and sometimes even shadows of her children nearby. All the while, she maintains a bearing of gentleness and devotion in how she moves and clutches her shawl around her, prays fervently for freedom, and waits. Portraying Harriet A. Jacobs, she hides in a small crawl space in her grandmother’s shack house for what was supposed to be a few months, but ended up being year after year, after year. How does one survive entombed like that, unaware if freedom will ever come?
Brown exudes a quiet dignity as she survives the assaults that flung her into her nearly buried alive state. Yes, the “Master’ eyed her development for years and laid in wait to pounce as soon as she came of age. Brown alludes to the horrors of chattel slavery but her primary focus is on the inner strength of Harriet A. Jacobs. That’s not an easy task to show when cooped up in a space barely large enough to sit, but she does, and that’s quite a feat.
This remarkable actress/playwright is a native Washingtonian and recently returned to the area after years of working in New York. Judging from her accomplishment in the freshly completed Hide Free, we are all the better for her return and look forward to her future performances.
Hide Free: A Tribute to a Former Slave
A Dramatic Tribute to Harriet A. Jacobs
Written and Performed by Lynne Marie Brown
Directed by Alexander Fraser
Reviewed by Debbie Minter Jackson
Running Time: 1:00 hour w/ no intermission
Read all the reviews and check out the full Capital Fringe schedule here.
Did you see the show? What did you think?