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Underground Railway Theater presents ‘Harriet Jacobs’


Harriet Jacobs’ harrowing true story about her life as a slave in the years leading to the Civil War comes to the stage in Harriet Jacobs, a new play by Lydia R. Diamond. Presented by Underground Railway Theater in collaboration with artists from The Providence Black Repertory Company, Harriet Jacobs is playing Central Square Theater Thursday, January 7 till Sunday, January 31. Press performance is schedule for Sunday, January 10 at 2 PM.

Astonishing and moving, Harriet Jacobs is the story of a remarkable woman’s resistance to oppression. To escape a predatory master, Jacobs hid in a crawl space for seven years, watching her children grow up under the care of her own grandmother. In Lydia R. Diamond’s adaptation of Jacobs’ autobiography, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Harriet reaches out from her own era and compels us to look at our history as if for the first time. Directed by Megan Sandberg-Zakian, this unsparing yet poetic coming-of-age story is based on the only published book-length slave narrative written by a woman.

Harriet Jacobs also has local community connections: after her escape from slavery, she spent years running a boarding house for Harvard students, the site of which is marked on the Cambridge African-American Heritage Trail. She is also buried in Mt. Auburn Cemetery.

Lydia Diamond’s plays include: Stick Fly (in production at The Huntington Theatre in February 2010), Voyeurs de Venus, The Bluest Eye, The Gift Horse, Stage Black, and Harriet Jacobs. Producing Theatres include: Arena Stage, Huntington, New Vic, Goodman, Steppenwolf, Long Wharf, Hartford Stage, McCarter, Playmakers Rep, Providence Black Rep, Chicago Dramatists, Congo Square, TrueColors, The Matrix, and Company One. Commissions include: Steppenwolf, Humana/Victory Gardens, McCarter, Huntington, and Roundabout. Lydia is on faculty at Boston University, is an 2006-07 Huntington Playwright Fellow, and a current TCG Executive Board Member.

This is the first creative partnership between Underground Railway and Black Rep. The actors come from both Providence and Boston, the director is the resident director for Black Rep, and the design team includes artists who have worked with both companies. After the Cambridge performances, a chamber version of the play will be performed in Providence (dates and venue to be announced).

Director Megan Sandberg-Zakian was the Associate Director of The Providence Black Repertory Company from 2005 till 2009, where her production of Tracy Letts’ Bug was nominated for four RI Motif Awards including Best Director and Best Production. Other recent projects include a contemporary rock-musical version of Brecht’s The Good Person of Szechwan (Cornish College, Seattle), an adaptation of King Lear (The 52nd Street Project, NYC), and a workshop of Jacqui Parker’s Jeanie Don’t Sing No Mo’ at the Huntington Theatre. This spring she will helm the Rhode Island premiere of Hedwig and the Angry Inch at Perishable Theatre.

The Acting Ensemble includes Kortney Adams, Ramona Alexander, Sheldon Best, De’Lon Grant, Mishell Lilly, Raidge, Obehi Janice and Kami Smith.

The design team for Harriet Jacobs includes Susan Zeeman Rogers (set), winner of an NEA-TCG Designer Fellowship and several awards from Independent Reviewers of New England Chip Schoonmaker (costumes), winner of multiple Emmy awards; David Roy (lighting) who has worked at Black Rep, Trinity, and the Public Theatre in NYC; Clarice LaVerne Thompson (music); and Melody Ruffin Ward (choreography).

Conversations with special guests, local academics from Harvard University and MIT, and the actors will follow select performances (see partial list below). There will also be receptions after select performances.

Harriet Jacobs plays at Central Square Theater, 450 Mass. Ave. in Cambridge, Thursday, January 7 through Sunday, January 31.

Compiled from the press release courtesy of Central Square Theater (website | profile | tag archive).

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