When I sat in the front row to the right facing the stage I was expecting nothing less than perfection. I have known Jacqui Parker as an actor, director, teacher and keeper of the theatrical flame a number of years. On this night with “Wrestling with Freedom” Parker took her teaching to a new level: history struggle, the fight for freedom and those that took the struggle to the present day and what is taking place in these United States of America now. “Wrestling with Freedom” opens with a young Phillis Wheatley dancing while adult Phillis looks on. Wheatley is returning from England with Daniel Wheatley where her book has been published and interrogated by white men there. The first act is centered around Wheatley’s life and being a servant to the Wheatley’s hence her name. She has friends, and remembers her African language, writes letters to General Washington, kings and queens in Europe. Wheatley marries but dies in childbirth. Kudos to Candis Hilton (Phillis Wheatley) and Joe Mullin (Daniel Wheatley).
Frederick, John and Harriett is well written and profound. Harriett Tubman arrives at the home of Frederick Douglas with freed slaves and they need a place to hide for the night. John Brown (Joe Mullin) an abolitionist also a friend of Douglas who orchestrated the attack on Harper’s Ferry along with freed slaves is also present. During a meeting between Douglas and Brown at Douglas’s home he tries to persuade Brown the plan won’t work. As this scene plays out in a discussion between Douglas with his wife it is implied that Douglas is a lady’s man and had a few distractions which his wife though she loves him is not happy with the situation.
The relationship between Douglas, Brown and Tubman is intertwined because the struggle was for freedom. Harriet is bringing a group of 7 freed blacks north and Douglas provides a place to hide and rest. Douglas, a friend of both Brown and Tubman he was a profound orator.
Harriett Tubman (Stephanie Marston Lee) who at times has been called the “Moses” of African slaves in America, freed over 300 African people. Her strength and courage to free her people was deeply rooted. She was a crack shot and never lost any she freed. In this act I learned Tubman had a sleeping sickness that she acquired from an injury she sustained while protecting one of her freed slaves.
Now it is 2017 and Trump is president and everyone is in fear of the future. At this time 6 people are about to go into seclusion (off the grid), 6 adults and one child and have prepared themselves for what’s to come. There are 7 people who will be without TV and cellphone as well as the internet and also not able to venture out from their new home in an abandoned building. These people have their own issues related to the state of the country and what will happen when 2018 comes around. They are fighting battles with themselves which at times spills over into the group and how they relate to each other.Some have husbands who are away and not knowing if they will reconnect in the future as well as sons and brothers who are on the other side not only literally but politically. At this moment the time is growing near when all forms ofcommunication will be off and these 7 people will have to wait it out until the next presidential election to know the fate of the country and themselves.
As I stated at the beginning I expected nothing more than perfection, history and a teaching from Jacqui Parker and that’s what I received. I am proud of her gift and her continuing to carry the torch of not only theater but African American history for myself and our youth to know and remember.