Submitted by Roy C. Dicks — Correspondent
The immediacy of live performance allows great emotional impact. When actors speak words of real people, performed in historically relevant locations, the results can be riveting. Such is the case for Bare Theatres Let Them Be Heard (in Winter), the companys third staging of slave narratives (and the first not in summer) on the grounds of Durhams Stagville, a pre-Civil War plantation.
The words come from interviews with former slaves, undertaken in the late 1930s by the Federal Writers Project. Director G. Todd Buker has selected six from North Carolina with local connections, editing them into ten-minute monologs for an hour-long presentation. Audience members move from one location to another, led by guides with lanterns. Huddled in the cramped unheated cabins or at a fire pit in front of them, attendees can feel the reality of slave living conditions.
In historic costuming, the actors speak directly to the viewers, using authentic accents and mannerisms. Their proximity to the audience, enhanced by flickering shadows and night chill, make the experience moving and eye-opening.
Warren Keyes David Blount of Beaufort County is a gentle, grateful man, reflecting positively on his days with his master, who took him along as his personal servant in the war. As Patsy Mitchner of Raleigh, Barbette Hunter gives a bitter account of the bewilderment former slaves had in their new-found but unguided freedom. Terra Hodges Mattie Curtis of Raleigh tells of constant beatings and the bearing of 19 children, most dying early.
Malcolm Green as Ben Johnson of Durham recounts harrowing days at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan, permanently setting his mind adrift. Gil Faisons Thomas Hall of Raleigh angrily lashes out at the idea that former slaves had any real freedom, accusing whites of offering little help and exploiting their plight. As John Thomas Williams of Raleigh, Phillip B. Smith bemoans the terrible sorrow of not knowing who he is, neither remembering his parents and siblings nor able to find any record of them.
These memories are shot through with heartrending and throat-tightening moments. Best experienced at Stagville, theyll also be staged in March at Carrboros ArtsCenter in a longer presentation with additional narratives.
Either way, despite disconcerting descriptions and frank language, these stories need to be heard, lest we forget their disturbing origins.