People who need overthrowing? This world will never experience a dearth of such disturbing denizens but none stand out so dramatically as slave owners and slave owner supporters the nation over–at the apex of the conflict that would ultimately foreshadow that of the Civil War! Other than that, I wouldn’t know where to begin or end, but author, actor, director Ted Lange does, and does so quite pointedly in his most freshly penned play, The Journals of Osborne P. Anderson.
It is a beautifully cloudy, somewhat blustery day as one approaches Theatre/Theater on Pico Blvd, not too far up the street from Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles (the only hot spot with which I am familiar in this neck of the lower thigh–chicken or human take your pick--of the upper portion of the left leg of lower Los Angeles, but a notable one nonetheless)! The outer wall of the theatre sports an arresting combo of black and purple paint but more attention getting than said noted color scheme, is the larger-than-life poster adorning its outer marquis the height and stature of which could give Andre the Giant a run for his money. The related historic scene depicted in its painting: John Brown going to the Gallows. A slave girl amid all onlookers holds her black child out to John Brown so that he may kiss it one last time before departing the world. The work entitled “The Last Moments of John Brown” was painted by Thomas Hoveden.
“I call myself a footnote historian,” Mr. Lange, also the play’s director, will inform us as he introduces the piece before curtain. The second in a dramatic trilogy commencing with George Washington’s Boy (revolving around the little known story of the first president of the United States and his unlikely and unflagging friendship with that of his manservant Billy Lee whom he raised from boyhood and freed upon his demise) and the precursor to Lady Patriot centering around the life of a female spy living in Confederate President Jefferson Davis’ house while working for the enemy, The Journals of Osborne P. Anderson was written last but certainly not least–not unlike an inside-out Star Wars trilogy turned right side in! This triptych however is distinguishable from our story in said “galaxy far, far away” and “a long, long time ago” as the events really are too close for comfort both in the space of national terrestrial soil, and even more vexingly in time, having transpired less than 200 years ago! (156 to be exact)! ”1859” to be even more precise, Mr. Lange will remind us as he holds up his cell phone and gives it a gentle and emphatic shake prompting us to extinguish and abandon all such electronics lest they impede the progress of said impending and attempted revolution and our experience therein. And it will be quite an experience, not just a spectator sport!
Culled from the journal entries of Obsorne P. Anderson the only survivor of noted white abolitionist John Brown’s 1859 attack on Harpers Ferry, our story opens on John Brown and Albert Hazelett descending upon a farm house and seizing its inhabitants along with any and all weapons to assist in their cause.
Brown will attempt to commandeer more armaments and backing along the way from runaway slaves, free men and white abolitionists alike. An historical consultation will also take place betwixt our hero and Frederick Douglass himself played by a regal and commanding J.D. Hall who, after not having seen Douglass’ picture in too many moons, looks to be his near spitting image. Douglass, despite his support for the principles at hand, will inform Brown that he deems the operation a “suicide mission”. Sentiment by John Brown will be uttered and agreed upon all the same that “slavery should have ended in 1873 with the American Revolution”.
Key and vivid players in the impending attack include Albert Hazlett, played by a sympathetic and earnest Jason Galloway, Shield Green portrayed by a stalwart, yet texturally stony-faced Adam Clark, Dangerfield Newby brought to us by an eager, somewhat wide-eyed Kareem Grimes, Osborne P. Anderson played by an even keel, methodical Thomas Anthony Jones, and last but certainly not least, a most arresting, and unassailable John Copeland brought to us by an equally outstanding Boise Holmes!
It is free man John Copeland who has attended Oberlin College, along with Osborne P. Anderson and, despite their co-curricular matriculation, he will correct everyone’s grammar including Anderson’s, “This guy works as a printer in Canada. You’d think he’d have better command of the language!”
Copeland will expound upon many a poignant and arresting topic not the least of which will highlight the destructive fusion of American commerce when combined with humanity, “America’s greatest product is niggers… When Africans get off the boat, they’re no longer Africans, they’re niggers.” All the ships from Europe come down near Spain and the Spanish simply say “negro—meaning black—less than human… Niggers are the most valuable product made in America. They are versatile, reproduce greater than any crop, and can entertain you, and the only place you can get a nigger is in America!” Considering what humanity now knows of the destructive effect of commercialism extending from the environment to any and all manner of social/biological engineering, one can only experience Copeland’s words as more than prescient in a world before most if any of social ills were ever blamed on marketing and capitalism, to speak nothing of abject racism.
John Brown and his men will invariably capture Lewis Washington: Great Grand Nephew of George Washington, played in most deliciously, unsavory fashion by an otherwise distinguished Bruce Cervi. It is quite enjoyable watching Copeland pull rank over Washington as he sits crabbily tied up in a chair bellyaching that he hasn’t had any sustenance in hours (when Osborne P. Anderson will later declare, upon visiting Frederick Douglass, that he has not eaten in FOUR days!!!) How’s that for some perspective for ya?!?
“These are not people, they are the half money race,” Washington will declare at which point Shield Green raises his gun in elbow jerk reaction.
Copeland, whom Washington refuses to call by his name, gives him one more chance to redeem himself, “If you don’t call me by my name by the count of three, these black eyes are gonna be the last thing you see.”–In short, a most chilling and righteously provoking scene!
The battle betwixt the Virginia Militia and John Brown’s men is positively stunning to behold as Patriotic (or really in this case UNPatriotic) music swells as the lights dim and illumine on decidedly striking tableaus the likes of which only remind one of antique paintings depicting the Civil War itself to speak nothing of its foreshadowing.
The court scenes are not only educational but somewhat humorous as John Wilkes Booth played by a wonderfully mellow dramatic Michael Proctor reenacts a scene from the battle only to be admonished by the bulldoggish Judge, to halt at all costs! “Wilkes Booth your brother Edwin does it better!”
Harpers Ferry, it is determined is on “Federal land, not Virginia soil” after all, according to Virginia Militia man Jeb Stuart brought to us most in most candid, yet conflicted fashion by a steadfast William Reinbold. Stuart will also confess to certain indiscretions at the hands of the state Troops.
“I don’t want Northerners thinking they can come into the South and have their way with her. She is a lady not a whore,” the Judge will intone, further urging Stuart to “rethink your report…change your report to Southern favor…” thusly furthering the old adage that history is not only written by the winners but rewritten as well, instantaneously and in real time by anyone in authority.
Additional monologues and scenes rounding out the narrative will center around Shield Green and his allusion to the imminent foreshadowing of the Civil War, along with Harriet Newby’s most maddening and distressing verbal reenactment of a singularly suffered, brutal rape inciting rebellion, along with one of my favorite scenes between our hero John Brown, portrayed by a stunning, strong and sincere Gordon Goodman as he discusses his love for his children with a surprisingly sympathetic and evolved prison guard in a world that seems to be in the earliest stages of waking up, just as Brown sadly and ironically is dead set on being put to sleep.
The audience can only rise at the end to register its stirring and awakened acceptance itself as many are seen wiping tears from their faces finding inspiration in said experience’s wake: A truly exceptional production from script to standing ovation and a definite *must see*!
Ted Lange’s The Journals of Osborne P. Anderson runs at Theatre/Theater until June 28th!
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