AJC calls UPRISING “hauntingly beautiful”

July 21st, 2015

Cynthia D. Barker (Sal) and Anthony Manough (Ossie) in Gabriell Fulton's UPRISING. Photo by Jay Bowman.

Cynthia D. Barker (Sal) and Anthony Manough (Ossie) in Gabriell Fulton’s UPRISING. Photo by Jay Bowman.

AJC Theater review: ‘Uprising’ meditates on nature of human bondage

By Wendell Brock – For the AJC

With “Uprising,” Atlanta-based playwright Gabrielle Fulton delivers a hauntingly beautiful study of the nature of freedom, love and the chaos of the human heart.

Though it reflects on choices made in a world held ransom by racist brutality, terrorism and the looming shadow of war, “Uprising,” at Horizon Theatre through Aug. 23, is not a play of the present day.

A history-based drama set in 1859, it imagines the repercussions felt by a community of freed slaves when white abolitionist John Brown decides to storm the U.S. military arsenal at Harpers Ferry. Brown, who loses his bid to start a slave revolt, never appears, but the wages of his politics take a devastating toll on Fulton’s central characters.

Directed by Thomas W. Jones II, “Uprising” employs music, dance, poetry and video to tell the tale of Sal (Cynthia D. Barker), a former slave who tries to earn a living and raise her nephew (Jaden D. Robinson) by picking cotton. As she goes about her work, Sal talks to the birds and shrugs off the comical advances of Bo-Jack (Enoch King), a country bumpkin who can’t carry a tune but has the sweetest intentions.

Enter Ossie (Anthony Manough), a handsome and articulate Oberlin College philosophy student trying to recruit supporters for Brown’s insurrection. As luck has it, Sal falls for Ossie — at some great cost. She then spends the rest of the play trying to undo the tragedy that befalls her. “Uprising” gains its considerable emotional impact from her near-undoing.

As directed by Jones, the ensemble — which includes Margo Moorer, LaParee Young, Brian Kurlander and Chisom Awachie — engages in some lively call-and-response spirituals that evoke the parallels between the slaves of America and those of biblical times. Playing the Tuneman, Theodis Ealey sets the tone with terrific acoustic guitar riffs.

Moriah and Isabel Curley-Clay contribute an all-purpose set of rough-hewn boards that functions for various locales, from Philadelphia to Georgia. Robbie Hayes’ videos are nicely designed, but in the end, it’s not always clear (to me at least) where we are on the map exactly.

Fulton’s play — which will soon get a second production at MetroStage in Alexandria, Va. — is a deeply moving story brimming with ideas about emancipation and bondage, past and present. What good is freedom when the ones you love can be ripped from you by the white man, as if from your own flesh? It’s one thing to have a piece of paper declaring you a freed slave, quite another to stand your ground in the white man’s world.

That said, “Uprising” feels a bit clunky and confusing at times, and the author seems to struggle to find her way out of it.

With its feminist theme, the story brings to mind the work of Lynn Nottage; and it may be the best play since Carlyle Brown’s “Pure Confidence” to evoke the awkward horror of a people who live with one foot in bondage and the other in freedom. In uprisings of race, religion, body and soul, there are bound to be casualties. That is what Fulton dissects so thoughtfully here.



Grade: B

8 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays; 3 and 8:30 p.m. Saturdays; 5 p.m. Sundays. Through Aug. 23. $20-$35. Horizon Theatre, 1083 Austin Ave. N.E., Atlanta. 404-584-7450, horizontheatre.com.

Bottom line: An intensely moving, history-based play.