The Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern continues its two-part festival The Theme is Blackness on the Manbites Dog Theater stage with Lydia R. Diamond’s 2006 Harriet Jacobs, inspired by the very inspiring 1861 Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, by Jacobs herself. Directed by Dana Marks, the show is a well-paced glance at some of the pernicious particulars of chattel slavery as it was practiced in 19th century Chowan County, NC, where it was both lived and observed by an intelligent, literate, imaginative woman.
Diamond’s script is lovely. She opens the narrative with what initially seems anti-incident — the never-ending round of work. Jacobs is a house slave, but we see the work of others, too, and, over the course of the play, the relationships among different types of workers. Issues of power, sexual and economic, are never far from the forefront as Harriet attempts to navigate the dangers of her world. As played by Tara-Whitney Rison, Harriet is kind and smart, determined and almost visionary. Rison is a senior theatre major at NCCU and she handles what must be a daunting role with aplomb, but her sweet-pitched voice does not always carry over the stage sounds.
The play alternates incident with testimony and reflection, making evident Jacobs' literary nature, and some of the strongest passages dwell on the difficulty of conveying, in any meaningful way, the realities of the lives of plantation slaves. But Jacobs and Diamond together impress powerful images on the mind. Tom (the delightful J. Alphonse Nicholson, also an NCCU student), a blacksmith from the next plantation, in love with Harriet, shyly showing her an example of his craft that he hopes will let him earn the money with which to buy her so they can marry. Harriet caught reading by her mistress. Grandma (Marilynn Rison, strong and funny), who had obtained her freedom and ran a bakery in her tiny house, secreting Harriet in a cramped attic and tending to her for the seven years she remained hidden there, reading, writing and expanding her mind’s freedom. Harriet, battling the madness of dark solitude to define her life and cast out the definitions that would shackle her. Ultimately, the real Harriet “followed the drinking gourd” and went north to become an abolitionist activist, but the play ends with her decision to do so.
Geraud Staton has devised a set flexible enough to indicate the big house, the fields, Grandma’s house and Harriet’s hiding place, with the aid of Chuck Catotti’s lighting. The action is much enlivened by the rich singing voices of the actors, and by a somewhat menacing, circling work dance (choreographed by Andrea E. Woods). The dance is anomalous; two or three dances might work better. Sometimes it was difficult to tell immediately which of multiple characters an actor was playing — and multiple casting always makes it hard for the viewer to build a strong connection with any one of the characters. Fortunately, Harriet is Harriet, and seeing her enacted is as wonderful as reading her words. The production continues through Nov. 13. See our calendar for details.