In the New York Theatre Workshop play Nat Turner in Jerusalem, the leader of the 1831 slave rebellion faces a long, dark night of the soul before his execution.”>
When the actor Phillip James Brannon wears the shackles that prevent his character, Nat Turnerthe slave who led a rebellion of other slaves in Virginia in 1831from moving, the weight of history is very literally on his shoulders.
The shackles themselves are from the same period, and Brannon told The Daily Beast he imagines they too may have been worn by a slave, and so their heaviness is both real and symbolic.
Brannons electric, passionate performance in Nathan Alan Daviss Nat Turner in Jerusalem, now at the New York Theatre Workshop, focuses on Turners last night in jail in Jerusalem, Virginia, before he is hanged the next day.
The second character in Daviss play is Thomas R. Gray (Rowan Vickers), an attorney who represented some of the 41 slaves and five free blacks who were tried in connection to the rebellion led by Turner, which took place in Southampton County, Virginia.
The rebels stopped at 16 houses, killing 12 men, 19 women, and 24 children. As the notes accompanying the plays program make clear, The dead included all those who had ever claimed to own Turner, including his current legal owner, a 10-year-old boy named Putnam Moore.
Gray later secured a copyright for his pamphlet, The Confessions of Nat Turner, as fully and voluntarily made to Thomas R. Gray, and the play imagines him and Turner parrying not just over what happened in the revolt, but also belief, injustice, inequality, and how the story may become Turners legacy, and what the nature of that legacy will be.