Sunday, November 15, 2009
Have you ever read Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn? Or Tom Sawyer, for that matter? That Twain was a genius, of course, doesn't need saying. He had his finger on the ironic pulse of America in the mid-19th century.
A few years ago, a show called "Big River" made it to Broadway. It was a musical, with music by Roger Miller, and the 'book' was nearly lifted directly from the Twain novel, "Huckleberry Finn."
We went to see a small theater production of "Big River" this afternoon in Hollywood. It seemed strange that they would choose this relatively BIG production to do in a small theater and we were curious as to how they'd manage it. Well, it was a terrific, theater-in-the-round experience.
For those who don't remember the story, it's the continuation of the old Tom Sawyer/ Jim story that came before it, but this is Huck's adventure with Jim (as a runaway slave) up the Mississippi River.
Of course slavery is the theme, and even Huck's struggle to be free of civilized convention. But by the end of the show, (this was the final performance of an extended run) half the actors were in tears and so were we.
What was so amazing though was that after the performance, they did a "Sunday talk back" after the show, where audience members can stay and ask the cast questions or comment on the show. There were the usual comments, nothing much too interesting.
This old black woman raised her hand. She was 87 years old and she said she'd been raised by her grandparents who had been slaves in the 1850-60's and when she was a girl, they would tell her stories about slavery and "those days" on the front porch of their house. You could hear the emotion in her choked voice as she said how much the play had moved her and made her remember all of those days, and stories, and her grandparents. And she thanked the cast for the experience.
We were all tearing up, in awe of this moment. Because I never imagined I'd hear an eye witness (once removed) account of slavery in my lifetime.
How near we are to losing the last surviving hearers. To learn from the source what went so awfully wrong in our country so long ago. 87! And her grandparents grew up as slaves.
The cast unanimously burst into tears at her words. The producer, already emotional, literally sobbed. Later, the young black actresses who'd played slaves, sat beside her and held her hand.
It was a moment I will never forget.