By Quelina J.
Amid a global pandemic and widespread social unrest, we can glean inspiration from a fresh take on an iconic, yet familiar story presented by The Virginia Repertory Theatre. In this current climate, when optimism seems fleeting and oppression rampant, Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad serves as a stark reminder to us all – to keep going, blazing trails, and fighting to create change for the masses even in the wake of injustice and impossibility. “Harriet” is hope and perseverance personified.
How did a woman who was born into slavery and developed hypersomnia from a head injury become a spy for the Union Army during the Civil War? With only her courage in tow and a will to live, how did she become an activist for women and change the course of history for African Americans? In a one-hour enthralling presentation, this theatrical depiction of “Harriet” highlights the pivotal moments along the journey of this awe-inspiring enslaved woman, turned abolitionist, and her quest to not only escape slavery, but to lead others to freedom. In addition to her lucid dreams that served as a guiding light and the spirituals she sang to secretly communicate with other enslaved people, we will witness the human side of Harriet – with her family and the complexity of her glory. This live performance is narrated by Harriet’s friend, Sarah Bradford.
According to the Director, Katrinah Carol Lewis, the magic of this adaptation lies in the details of Harriet’s life. “I want the audience to be inspired by Harriet’s tenacity, by her willingness to put herself in harm’s way to do what she knew was right. I hope that they learn some things that maybe they didn’t know about Harriet already, some details beyond her being a hero or like Moses or bringing people to freedom. The sheer scope of the work that she did in the Underground Railroad and with the Civil War, I hope people are inspired by that,” said Lewis. She brings fresh energy with her take on this play that was written in the 90s by Douglas Jones; coupled with the talent of an amazing cast, this production promises to capture the true essence of Harriet.
When asked why it was important to Virginia Rep to bring “Harriet” to the November Theatre, Liz Nance, Director of Communications said, “Because we had presented it to our Children’s Theatre at Willow Lawn and it was so popular, we knew more people could understand her history if we could bring it to the November stage downtown. Since there have been a lot of public gatherings following the death of George Floyd between the Arts District downtown, where the November Theatre is located, and Lee Circle, we believe that telling Harriet Tubman’s story will lead to more discussions and increased understanding of the history of slavery in our country.” While the subject matter of this play is heavy, the overarching theme is hope. “Find the joy in witnessing her story. The joy in
witnessing someone overcome. There is hope in knowing that someone like Harriet existed and that we all have the same capacity if we tap into our bravery,” said Lewis. This perspective is what makes Harriet’s story more relevant today than ever.
Harriett Tubman and the Underground Railroad will show on October 3rd, 4th, 10th and 11th at 1:30 pm and 4:00 pm ET on the Marjorie Arenstein Stage. This will be the first live performance at the November Theatre located at 114 W. Broad Street, Richmond, VA 23220, since they closed their doors earlier this year due to the quarantine. To protect the health of the audience members and staff, this will be a socially distanced production. The Theatre is selling advance tickets only for 25% of its capacity at $15 each and face masks are required.