Encore Michigan

HSRT sells out Sojourner ‘Truth’

Review July 01, 2019 David Kiley

HOLLAND, Mich.–Speaking truth to power is not a modern undertaking. As long as there has been injustice, there have been courageous women and men who have spoken out against it.

In at least one case, such a woman shed her birth name and took on the name of Truth, Sojourner Truth, as she traveled the country on foot as an abolitionist, women’s rights activist and Christian, preaching against the evils of injustice from 1843 until her death in 1883.

Hope Summer Repertory Theatre is presenting “truth: The Testimonial of Sojourner Truth” by Eric Cable what the Miller Recital Hall this summer in a run that lasts until the end of July and has already sold out. It’s an impressive feat to sell out such a show before opening night, but not as impressive as the feat the performers accomplish.

It’s ostensibly a one-woman show, but there are two others on stage—a dancer and a drummer. The dancer plays many roles and occasionally has lines.

But it is Jasmine Bracey as Sojourner Truth who commands the approximately 70-minute show. Bracey plays out a lifetime on the stage, from Truth’s early childhood to her elderly days. She changes her voice, her movements, and her expressions, morphing into distinct characters who are all related and naturally evolve into each other.

She moves back and forth in time as a narrator sharing her life as a slave to several masters–including one who beat her because her English was poor as her native language was Dutch—to meeting Abraham Lincoln to her end days where she wonders who will be the Moses that carries on her fight and leads people to freedom.

Bracey is a compelling storyteller with a physicality to match. Whether doing somersaults or walking with a limp from Battle Creek to Baltimore, her every choice furthers the narrative and draws the audience deeper into the life and soul of this trailblazing activist.

Darius Lee supports the storytelling as a dancer, sometimes providing shadows in the background, sometimes portraying important people in Sojourner’s life such as her son, sometimes providing dramatic color to the scene.  His role contributes to the theatricality of the production and he does it with flair and intensity.

Providing a percussive sound track to the story is Chaz Sanders who is in his fourth season with HRST, having choreographed and played the Scarecrow in last year’s The Wiz. He is on stage for the entire show with a Conga-style drum, emphasizing story beats and helping build tension in a most effective manner.

Director Marcus D. Johnson, who directed The Wiz last summer, does an excellent job of conducting the dramatic flow of this story, weaving all three performers together and moving them among the very simple set designed by Mario Raymond that criss-crosses large swathes of cloth from ceiling to floor to provide entrances and exits for the dancer and allow for shadow people. Johnson makes the most of all of the show’s elements to emphasize the theatricality of the testimonial, entrancing the audience and keeping them spellbound through the entire production.

It is an interesting choice by Cable that in a play titled “truth” he chose to go with the mythical tales of Sojourner Truth’s life rather than the factual ones. It is a common enough choice in theater—to choose the dramatic that supports the story rather than the purely biographical, but it seems unnecessary when the real facts of her life are dramatic enough and take nothing from her accomplishments or courage.

However, most of the story is accurate and it brings to life a woman whose words continue to echo through the decades, whose fight is still being fought and whose evangelical fervor is needed more than ever. It is a play whose dramatic ending issues a call to action, a demand that her fight be carried on.

Hope Summer Rep does justice to the life of a woman who sought justice for the vulnerable, for the oppressed, for those who were being denied their rights. Their production is an inspiring challenge that is less a history lesson and more a relevant reminder of a message that still needs to be preached.

Week of 7/15/2019

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