Alliance's Saucy 'Insurrection'; Uninhibited Step from Today to a Nat Turner Past

Article excerpt

Byline: Jayne Blanchard, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Playwright Robert O'Hara is just nervy enough to find the fun, irreverent side of slavery outlandish as that may seem. His 1996 play, "Insurrection: Holding History," mixes camp and historical narrative to give us a reeling ride through the 1831 Nat Turner slave rebellion and contemporary issues of sexual and cultural identity.

Theater Alliance's rambunctious production, equal parts impudent and intense, is under the incisive direction of Timothy Douglas and features uninhibited performances by a talented cast that would not be out of place in an opera house, albeit an opera house where Chuck Brown's go-go music is played. The feverish approach works beautifully here, giving the piece a hallucinatory, Alice in Wonderland quality.

The "Alice" in this case is Ron Potter (Frank Britton), a black homosexual graduate student at Columbia University working on a thesis about Nat Turner.

Returning home for the birthday of his 189-year-old great-great-grandfather, TJ (Cedric Mays) apparently, August Wilson's Aunt Esther is not the only character who has been hanging on since the days of slavery Ron instead is sucked back in time to a plantation in Southampton, Va., in the days before Turner's insurrection.

TJ demands to be taken back to Virginia before he dies, and although he is confined to a wheelchair and immobile except for movement in one eye and toe, he communicates his wishes to Ron. The farther south they go, the more Ron races into the past, until he not only is picking cotton under the beady eye of Ova Seea Jones (KenYatta Rogers), but also is engaging in a caustic debate with Nat Turner himself (Mr. Rogers, in a dual role). In between, Ron kicks up his heels in riotous song-and-dance numbers, indulges in a time-traveling tryst with a soulful slave (Cleo House) and witnesses the cartoonish antics of the white folks on the plantation, especially the fan-waving Mistress Mo'tel (Aakhu Freeman), who is Scarlett O'Hara, Aunt Pittypat and Jezebel rolled into one.

As wild and raucous as "Insurrection" is, the distinct lack of focus and conflict makes you wonder why anybody's along for the ride except for sheer entertainment. …