Saturday, March 13, 2010

Harriet Jacobs: a play based on Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

Harriet Jacobs
a play based on Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
Kami Rushell Smith as Harriet
photo by Elizabeth Stewart, Providence Black Repertory Co.

Harriet Jacobs, a play inspired by Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
by Lydia R. Diamond

The Underground Railway presented Harriet Jacobs in early 2010. The play is based on the slave memoir Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs.

Harriet was a house slave on a plantation in the south in the 1830s. Her Granny was free and owned a bakery in town. Harriet is in love with a slave carpenter named Tom, who belongs to another master on another plantation. When Tom seeks out the master to purchase and marry Harriet, the master burns Tom's money and says he'll say Harriet for $850 when "hell freezes over!" Tom disappears from Harriet's life, leaving her brokenhearted and subject to the master's advances and mistress's hatred for the rest of her life.

Unable to bear the idea of giving in to the sexual advances of her owner, Harriet makes the choice to give virtue up to a wealthy white lawyer who offers her a little bit of kindness. She bears him two children and becomes estranged from her Granny, who had made her promise to never use her body as a bargaining chip. When the master threatens to sell Harriet's children, she runs to her Granny with the babies. Granny hides Harriet a small crawl space above the rafters in a shed! The children's father buys them and places them with Granny, where Harriet watches them through a hole in the roof for seven years before finally escaping north.

Though the shed was dark, cramped, too cold or too hot, Harriet finds her voice and freedom on her own terms.

The play was incredible! There are 8 actors who play all the characters, and each actor is African-American. The white characters are differentiated by the way they dress. All the actors did a fabulous job, especially Harriet. She was bright and loved to read and dream and was faced with a lifetime of unimaginable horror, yet she maintained her dignity and determination throughout.

Read more about the play at Central Square Theater's website and blog.

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