Went last night to Syracuse Stage to see the world premiere of Possessing Harriet. It's just good to attend the theater, to see actors working in person, and to be largely uninterrupted for almost two hours. My youngest daughter and I attended the show and it was good, had us talking afterward, and will have us still thinking about it today.
The show is described in this way:
In 1839, Harriet Powell, a young, mixed-race, enslaved woman slips away from a hotel in Syracuse, New York, and escapes from the Southerner who owns her. With the aid of a mysterious free black man named Thomas Leonard, Harriet finds temporary safe harbor in an attic room at the home of impassioned abolitionist Gerrit Smith. With the slave catchers in pursuit, Harriet spends the hours before her nighttime departure on the dangerous journey to Canada in the company of Smith’s young cousin Elizabeth Cady, an outspoken advocate for women’s equality. Confronted with new and difficult ideas about race, identity, and equality, and with confusion, fear, and desperation multiplying, Harriet is forced to the precipice of radical self-re-imagination and a reckoning with the heartrending cost of freedom.
It was a good show, but I hope it will change and grow as it is produced elsewhere. There was more speech making than I would have liked and I kept being reminded that I was watching a play. The medium made itself too apparent when I wished to be enmeshed in the story.
That said, I recommend the show as a reflection not just on our past but as a reminder of the discrimination based on race, gender, creed, and more that is as prevalent today. As was the case with abolitionism, these things are not discussed enough in our parlors because they are deemed impolite and impolitic. The show, without reaching, is commentary on our current situation and the disaster of our current leadership.
Possessing Harriet reminded me that believing something is wrong and doing something to make it right are very different things. It had me feeling some shame for not doing more.