Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Also see Susan's review of Destiny of Desire
People know about how, in 1859, the militant abolitionist John Brown and his followers, black and white, attacked the federal armory in Harpers Ferry, then in Virginia (now West Virginia), but few know about the one African-American participant in the raid who survived. Osborne Perry Anderson was a college-educated free man of color who worked as a printer in Canada, and he was the inspiration for Fulton's main character Ossie (Anthony Manough).
The setting is a community of free people of color in southern Pennsylvania, located near a cotton plantation where they work for wages. Sal (Cynthia D. Barker), a character inspired by the playwright's great-grandmother, is devoted to her friends and especially her foster son Freddie (Jeremiah Hasty), and she isn't afraid to work hard to achieve her goals. Then she encounters Ossie, on the run and delirious, and she is forced to look at experiences outside her own life.
Fulton works to make her characters multi-dimensional. Ossie's fervor for his cause is such that he refuses to compromise, which puts Sal and especially Freddie at risk. On the other hand, Sal is practical and determined to succeed, but her deep sympathy with the land comes through in her overly precious conversations with birds and plants. (She understands their answers, too.)
Director Thomas W. Jones II originally staged Uprising in Atlanta and three cast members (Manough, Barker, and Enoch King as fellow field worker Bo-Jack) are reprising their roles. Manough demonstrates Ossie's education and zeal without becoming too annoying, Barker does well with a role that includes two dramatic monologues, Hasty is a shining and genuine presence, and Doug Brown stands out in a smaller role.
The play has a lot to say, but it takes its time saying it. The underscoring of blues throughout, underpinned by David Cole's soulful guitar and William Knowles' musical direction, propels the drama when it might lag.