Friday, August 15, 2008

"Our Common Passage", a one-actor play from Colonial Williamsburg


Colonial Williamsburg has a shorted play, a one-actor play written and performed by Abigail Schumann, called “Our Common Passage.” The title does not refer to the passage across the Atlantic (like the colonists that settled Jamestown), but rather to the individual hardships of diverse women during and after the American Revolution.

Schumann plays four different roles, and acts in simple indoor colonial settings appropriate for each role. Jane Harmon performs some period songs between each act (apparently dubbing the voice as Schumann is on stage). In fact, she starts by singing “O Absalon, My Son.” (Absalom was a controversial son of David in the Old Testaement.) Then she plays a gentrified woman who has lost a child as Revolution approaches Williamsburg. She talks about Governor Dunmore and the possibility that he would free slaves who would fight for the Revolution, and that would cause hardships. (Colonial Williamsburg explains the challenging historical details about Dunmore’s activities, including placing Williamsburg under martial law, here.) She also talks about her eagerness to raise her husband’s (he is away) pervious children. Next, she sings a song with a mandolin-like instrument (“Nothing Can Mourn Her”) and then she plays a midwife, in a world where childbearing was a risky responsibility for women, and many women died. The third act has a slave (the word “negro” is used and it was accepted then and was in this country until after the 1960s) who mentions nursing her master’s children. There is talk of a husband “gone but not sold, he left by choice.” In the last segment, she is a woman in the mountainous frontier, having been “exiled” because of a debt, and giving birth to a child alone. The stage goes dark as the baby utters his first cries.

The play shows us that their world was one of forced intimacy and commitments that most of us would find unbelievable in our culture. Yet, there were many of the concepts of today’s system of liberty, such as contracts and private property.

The DVD is accompanied by a 17-minute short film called “Colonial Clothing: The Dress of Eighteenth Century America,” directed by Gene Bjerk. Men actually had businesses in “staymaking” related to women’s corsets and petticoats. Both boys and girls wore dresses as young children. Men went through elaborate preparations in the morning, being shaved by a slave and then putting on what look like elaborate costumes with stocking garters, wigs, and elaborate pullover shirts. I guess they met John T. Molloy's pretentious vision of how to "dress for success."

The link for the DVD is this.

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