Uprising by Gabrielle Fulton, and directed by Thomas W. Jones II, integrates live blues guitar and song by local musician David Cole with the powerful storytelling of a highly talented ensemble. Set in 1858 the feeling of relationship among a free black community is outstandingly portrayed. Sal, a headstrong, independent-minded, and free woman is played to the hilt by Suzi Bass Award winner Cynthia D. Barker. She has the knack of bringing to the stage both mournful tears and squeals of laughter. She moves briskly, dances joyously, and pulls off one of the strongest performances I have seen this this year on local stages.
Fulton gives us a story that is historically based where we get to peer into the lives of what it must have been like for freed slaves. In a way, Fulton has created several archetypal characters. There’s Bo-Jack, played with gusto by Enoch King, who is in competition with Sal to see who can yield the most cotton. Whistle, Peter Boyer, is the Overseer who fluctuates from friend to foe. There’s Charlie, the wise elder played by Doug Brown, and Lottie, a skeptical brooder, played with gusto by understudy Naomi LaVette. Then there are the pivotal characters of “the fugitive,” Ossie, played with incredible energy and by Helen Hayes nominated Anthony Manough and Freddie, the debut role of nine year-old Jeremiah Hasty, who brings much emotion to his performance. I look forward to seeing Jeremiah in future performances.
The scenic and projection design created by Robbie Hayes gets a thumbs-up for simple ingenuity. Historical photos of newspaper headlines and more carry us through a timeline of the play. The costumer, Janine Sunday, as well offers a true feeling of those times. Under the musical direction of William Knowles the talented cast sings harmony in a way that exalts the human spirit.
There are certain stand-out scenes that capture the poignant message of the play as when LaVette, as Miss Ellen May, serves Barker tea. An intimacy and compassion is felt. Both actors appear to shed everything before our eyes and only a simple, pure human beauty remains. Equally strong are moments when Bo-Jack declares his feelings for Sal, when Ossie chooses the path of revolutionary, and when Freddie in shackles speaks the words: “For sale.”
Uprising is a powerful theatrical experience filled with passion, great singing, dancing, and heart, performed by a dream cast. I highly recommend that you put it on the top of your ‘must-see’ list.
*This is a review of the Saturday, September 19, 2015 evening performance. Naomi LaVette replaced Roz White who returned the following day and performed in the Press Opening evening performance.
Uprising plays through October 25, 2015 at MetroStage – 1201 North Royal Street, in Alexandria, VA. For tickets, call the box office at (703) 548-9044, or purchase them online. Uprising is part of the Women’s Voices Theater Festival.
Kim Moeller reviews Uprising (Sunday, September 20, 2015 Evening Press Night Performance) on DCMetroTheaterArts.
‘Uprising’ Plays September 17-October 25th at MetroStage as Part of The Women’s Voices Theater Festival.