Review: ‘Resistance!’ at The Actors’ Group
REVIEW BY JOHN BERGER / email@example.com
Imagine someone has in their possession something that legally belongs to you. Something worth, let’s say, $30,000.
Imagine that federal law says you have the right to go get your property, and every American anywhere in the country — law enforcement personnel and private citizens alike — is required to help you.
You’d expect the law to be enforced, right? Who wouldn’t agree that lost or stolen property should be returned to its legal owner?
Now suppose the year is 1851 and the “property” in question is an escaped slave. That’s the conflict in play in The Actors’ Group production of “Resistance!”
The story takes place in Pennsylvania. Slavery was illegal in Pennsylvania but citizens were required by federal law to help apprehend fugitive slaves found there. In 1851 a slave owner was killed in Pennsylvania while trying to capture a runaway slave. Several citizens of the state were charged with treason, a crime punishable by death, for either actively resisting the attempt to arrest the slave or for failing to assist the local marshall in enforcing federal law on behalf of the slave owner.
“Resistance!” is playwright Richard Caulfield Goodman’s take on how these issues might have been talked out if William Parker, the leader of the free blacks who’d defended the runaway, and who happened to be an escaped slave himself, had sought legal counsel from Thaddeus Stevens. Stevens was a local attorney, a U.S. congressman and a prominent opponent of slavery (it is not known if two men ever met).
In “Resistance!” Parker confronts Stevens at gunpoint and demands legal counsel. Stevens knows that helping Parker could cost him his seat in Congress and quite possibly result in prison time and a large fine. The law is the law but Stevens hates slavery.
What will he do?
Quantae Love (Parker), an impressive actor in two prior TAG productions, most notably in the title role of “King Hedley II” last year, gives a powerful and nuanced performance in a multifaceted role here.
Eli Foster (Stevens) effectively articulates the real-life complexities of the issues from the perspective of a congressman who voted against the Fugitive Slave Act and vehemently disagrees with it, but understands that it is now the law of the land.
The third key player in the TAG production is Bianca Tubolino (Lydia Hamilton Smith), who makes her Hawaii stage debut a memorable one in the role of Stevens’ housekeeper. Smith was one-quarter black, and therefore “black” under American race law. She was Stevens’ housekeeper for the last 20 years of his life and considered by many to be his common-law wife; the actual nature of their relationship is a matter of conjecture.
Tubolino gives a compelling portrayal of a strong and fiercely protective woman who isn’t afraid to speak her mind to anyone, black or white, even when they’re pointing a gun at her.
Rebecca McCarthy (Quaker Woman) is the outspoken voice of civil disobedience, wobbling through at least two ethnic dialects as the first of Stevens’ unwanted callers. Scott S. Schewe (Castner Hanway) makes his stage debut in the role of a distraught white mill owner who faces treason charges for not helping apprehend the runaway. Kelsey Swanson (Anna Morgan) plays the miller’s rifle-toting servant, a white woman who allegedly has a “thing” for black men.
S. Rick Crump (Marshall Henry Kline), seen last fall in a beautifully played portrayal of tragic father in TAG’s production of “Hollywood Arms,” stands out here with his work as the designated villain. The lawman is not only on the wrong side of human rights but a coward and a racist as well.
Most of the issues and relationships are addressed in a series of loud arguments about slavery, the experiences of blacks and whites in general, the nature of relationships between men and women, and whether disagreeing with a law is sufficient reason to break it. There is also a lengthy argument about whether or not the congressman is going to eat his breakfast.
All the loud arguments serve as prologue to a scene where the volume drops and two characters explore compelling issues in subtler and more nuanced tones. The contrast in volume and stage lighting makes that interlude an engaging romantic oasis in playwright Goodman’s provocative look back into our legacy as Americans.
John Berger has been a mainstay in the local entertainment scene for more than 40 years. Contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.