This is a brief postscript about Harriet Jacobs, which closed this weekend at the Central Square Theater, and which I'm only writing about because the cast of the production was so strong I felt I had to applaud them in print. Alas, the play, by Lydia R. Diamond, struck me as even weaker than the same author's wacky Voyeurs de Venus, which I suffered through last year. Diamond trafficks in sanctimonious psycho-biography disguised as pedagogy, and certainly the complicated life of the heroic Harriet Jacobs deserves better than the flat proclamations she has provided here. But as the playwright is sexy and connected (friends with Peter DuBois of BU, where she teaches, and actually married to a Harvard prof), I guess we're stuck with her for the time being.
And so are these actors, it seems. I don't think I've seen the sparkling Kortney Adams since she had to scream at the bare boobies in Voyeurs; and why the hell is that? She's got Shakespeare's Rosalind, or maybe Shaw's Candida, written all over her. Why is she doomed to declaim the likes of Lydia R. Diamond? Likewise when did I last see the wonderful Ramona Lisa Alexander? I guess it was in the riveting In the Continuum over a year ago - another "black play." To be fair, I recall the Actors' Shakespeare Project cast both the sweet Sheldon Best and the luminous Kami Rushell Smith (above left, as Harriet) in their recent Much Ado, so here's to them for freeing a few of these actors from the ghetto of political correctness. And the Wheelock Family Theatre, bless 'em, cast the hunky De'Lon Grant in both Saint Joan and A Tale of Two Cities. The soulful Obehi Janice, meanwhile, has only just begun to be seen locally at all.
This isn't really meant as a jab at the show's producer, Underground Railway Theater - I'm glad somebody is hiring these folks - except insofar as the choice of play is concerned. Even within the political parameters of "young, female and black" I just have to believe there are better playwrights out there than Lydia R. Diamond. Of course to be fair, American slavery was so horrific that it would take a truly great dramatist to create art from it rather than agitprop - still, 150 years on, isn't it time we began demanding that? On the plus side, designer Susan Zeeman Rogers's channeling of Kara Walker was mildly interesting, and director Megan Sandberg-Zakian at least kept things moving, although she seemed satisfied to also keep them somewhat superficial. Then again, what other choice did she have? Oh, well. Here's hoping that Diamond's Stick Fly, which opens soon at the Huntington, marks a step up from, and out of, this writer's ongoing post-graduate seminar.