Nat Turner: Following Faith - Is the Path to Hell Paved with Good Intentions?

 

Nat Turner’s 1831 insurrection of slaves against their white masters is perhaps the most famous of slave rebellions in the American South. NAT TURNER: FOLLOWING FAITH documents Nat Turner’s life and explores what may have led a religious, intelligent, and well-read black man to turn to bloodshed as a means of ending slavery. The spirit of Gabriel Prosser, an earlier black abolitionist who was ultimately hanged, serves as narrator for the events in Nat’s life.

 

Tamue Massaquoi and Terry Woodberry - Photo by Daniel Martin

 

Even Nat’s earliest experiences are marked by chaos as his slave mother tries to drown the newborn Nat “to set him free” and his slave father repeatedly tries to escape the plantation until one day Nat never sees him again. During his childhood, his grandmother imbues him with the message which will shape his future - that he is “special” and can end slavery. Then his master’s son reneges on his elder’s promise to free Nat when he reaches adulthood and his pregnant wife is torn from his arms - traumatic events leading to a bloodbath in which men, women, and children were indiscriminately slaughtered in the name of freedom: “This is not the killing of white men; it is the murder of slavery.”

 

Terry Woodberry, Dennis Delsing, Tamue Massaquoi, Baadja Ouba - Photo by Daniel Martin

 

In an over-long and excessively wordy production, playwright Paula Neiman describes pivotal points in Nat Turner’s life. The players typically describe the events in words rather than showing the audience by action. The result is a rather preachy diatribe on the atrocities of slavery, sometimes repeated by more than one victim. Although Nat Turner (Tarnue Massaquoi) and Gabriel Prosser (Asante Jones) are the principle characters in this play - and do a creditable job of exploring the agonies of Nat’s life - the scene-stealer in this opus is most certainly Nat’s Grannie Bridget (Cydney Wayne Davis). Wayne Davis, a long-time musical and theatrical staple, strikes just the right note of pain and hope as she succinctly and clearly points out where Nat’s life may be going. It helps that she has a strong set of vocal cords, and this reviewer wished that she might have followed through with a complete song.

 

Asante Jones, Dominique Washington, Sade Moore, Tamue Massaquoi, Phrederic Samaj - Photo by Daniel Martin

 

Director Dan Martin does a good job of carrying the play forward; however, given the nearly three-hour length of NAT TURNER: FOLLOWING FAITH, the production still seemed to drag. The staging is sparse - a table and chair, a rocking chair, and a bed on a raised platform. As the play begins, bucolic plantation scenes are flashed on the canvas back-drop - an approach which was effective but not continued into the story. The production team did an adequate job of portraying the morose tale of good intentions gone bad.

 

Tamue Massaquoi and Dominque Washington - Photo by Daniel Martin

 

NAT TURNER: FOLLOWING FAITH runs at 8 p.m. on Thursdays through Saturdays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays at Theatre/Theatre, located at 5041 West Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90019.  Tickets cost $25 (groups of ten or more $20). For reservations, call 213-529-5153 or go online at http://buytickets.at/natturner.

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