Wednesday, September 11, 2013

They Can't Kill Her

My words are probably going to fail me here.

Last Sunday, Wes and I attended a one woman show at Beaufort ARTworks black box theater entitled Becoming Harriet Tubman.  This play was written and performed by Natalie Daise, and actor, singer, storyteller, and visual artist who is perhaps most recognizable from her role on the Nick Jr. show Gullah Gullah Island.

I have nothing to compare this experience to.  Per the Charleston City Paper:
"Natalie Daise is a masterful storyteller in the old Southern tradition of oral history. In her one-woman show, Becoming Harriet Tubman, which she wrote and performs, Daise tells the story of how a slave girl named Araminta Ross became the historical figure known as the "Moses" or "Conductor" of the Underground Railroad. For an hour, the audience at the nearly sold-out Threshold Repertory Theatre sat fixated on the lone Daise as she smoothly alternated between narrator and the multiple characters in Tubman's life."
I think imagination and creativity are criminally underdeveloped areas of historical inquiry and instruction.  It's one thing to know the story of Harriet Tubman.  It is quite another to live inside it-if only vicariously and if only for an hour.  The facts of a life can be huge enough, great enough, awe inspiring enough . . . but when we consider the humanity inside a legend they become so much more.

In this intimate performance, Daise creates characters so real that the audience is tempted to, and occasionally does, respond to their very real pain.  There were moments when I felt like Araminta (Tubman) or her mother Harriet were talking just to me and I wanted to respond.  

That's just how good it was.

Harriet, Tubman's mother, was the character that struck me the most.  Daise showed us a nuanced and layered version of black slave motherhood.  This was a woman who loved her children and grandchildren dearly.  She was willing to risk her life to not have any more of those children sold away from her.  Daise shows you her pain and helplessness when young Araminta is returned to her broken, beaten down, and worn out again and again from being hired out.  She also shows us her jubilation and her relief when Araminta survives the most brutal ordeal yet-having a portion of her skull caved in with a heavy weight.

"They can't kill her!" Harriet says, when her baby opens her eyes, when her baby lives.  At that moment, our predominately white audience laughed-I like to think they were responding to a mother's joy that white people had failed in destruction once more.  The joy was there-but laughter escaped me because with the relief there was also resignation, or expectation that white folks would sure enough continue to try and the conviction that Araminta was stronger than they were-that she was touched by God.  There was relief that a mother might be able to rest a little easier.

It was so good.

As yet, the performance is not available digitally although I will definitely keep abreast of developments in that area.  If you get a chance to see it, do.  Whatever the ticket price might be, it will be worth it.

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