Thursday, January 25, 2018

Frederick Douglass Now at Penumbra Theatre

This weekend only: Roger Guenveur Smith performs Frederick Douglass Now, which he also wrote, with an intensity sustained through the full eighty-some minutes of the piece. It's hard to describe a work of art that leaves one speechless, so let's start with the Penumbra website's description of the show:
Two hundred years ago Frederick Douglass was born into slavery. Likely the son of his slavemaster, Douglass liberated himself at twenty years old and began a new life using his exceptional skills as an orator, writer, journalist, and politician to fight for the abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, and an end to racial discrimination. He died arguably the most recognized abolitionist in the world. In this poetic remix, acclaimed artist Roger Guenveur Smith lifts up the legacy of this great man, weaving his story through a modern constellation of American power, politics, and promise.
On a simple set with a huge American flag dangling down to the stage, Smith appears, microphone in hand, and begins speaking. In long, poetic phrases, Smith speaks as Douglass, mixing the words of the famed abolitionist with contemporary references to illuminate some of the history of African Americans in this country. Rather than narrative, the style is more stream-of-consciousness, with a fluid approach to time and featuring quirky asides, like a phone call from Harriet Tubman. Just go with the flow and let this compelling performer take you along on his wave of words.

There are only six performances of the show (including Saturday and Sunday matinees), which closes on January 28, so don't hesitate to get your tickets for this rare and incomparable performance. To delve further into Smith's work, check out the film Rodney King on Netflix, based on the one man show seen at Penumbra in 2015 and directed by Spike Lee.