Photo by Don Kellogg

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Nat Turner in Jerusalem

A well acted, heavy two hander (well really 3 but it's only two actors) is playing down at New York Theater Workshop.  Nat Turner in Jerusalem (Virginia, not Israel) is a fictional attempt at documenting the final days of the life of real life Nat Turner.

Mr. Turner is infamous for leading a slave/free black rebellion throughout the south where dozens of innocent women, children, and others were brutally killed.  Mr. Turner was ultimately captured and jailed and executed - as were many of the rebellion participants.

What makes his story unique and controversial is that Mr. Turner looked upon his rebellion as a "just war" against whites.  His murderous rampage was sanctioned, according to him, by God himself.  This play attempts to explore Thomas Gray's (Rowan Vickers) attempt to extract the story and background from Nat Turner (Phillip James Brannon) while in jail before his execution.   What plays out instead if Mr. Turner trying to convince Mr Gray to believe and to understand his point of view.  There is also a guard in the prison played equally well by Mr. Vickers and I think the point of casting the same actor for a totally different role was to demonstrate the "every-white-man" concept.

Ultimately Mr. Gray's notes were published (and copy protected) and many believe he embellished the story.  Regardless of the embellishment or not, the interaction between Mr. Turner and Mr. Gray was at times mesmerizing and at other times preachy.   What did stand out is that the conflicts that took place in the 1800's are not all that different from the conflicts and struggles today.  The circumstances may be different but the roots remain the same.

One begins to wonder if what Mr. Turner was able to execute might possibly be repeated at some point today.

Set simple, lighting a bit spotty, theatre configuration innovative, thoughts of a repeat - scary.