Funny, Thought Provoking and Intense: Review of Know Theater’s “Harpers Ferry 2019”
Posted On March 7, 2022
Review by Sherri Ogden Wellington, LCT
Harpers Ferry 2019 is an enthralling 100 minute production now at Know Theatre Cincinnati. Written by Kaela Mei-Shing Garvin, Harpers Ferry takes place at the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park in West Virginia, where the Shenandoah and the Potomac rivers meet, when a production company is making a film for the 160 year anniversary of John Brown’s Raid featuring three Park Rangers.
The play begins with Jay (Ryan-Chavez Richmond) who is an experienced Harper Ferry Park Ranger, training two rangers, Paul (Samuel Fisher) and Celia (Veronica Dang). Both are new to this particular park. Paul and Celia know each other from high school, which adds another layer to the plot, especially regarding an acquaintance that later is found to have gone missing. Both Paul and Celia worry about how the immigrants coming in from Central America but have philosophical differences on how they should be treated. Jay is just focused on his park and his family ties.
The rangers are extremely knowledgeable on John Brown’s Raid at Harpers Ferry which is considered by many as the prelude to the Civil War. John Brown was an abolitionist who in October of 1859 gathered a small militia (22 members) to take control of the arsenal at Harpers Ferry with the intent of making slaves revolt. Although the raid was not successful, it garnered a great deal of national news (mostly due to the relatively new technology of the electrical telegraph). The majority of the men die at the armory and though Brown doesn’t, he is later hanged by the courts. John Brown appears to be an idealist who wanted to end slavery but was unable to comprehend his limited capabilities to achieve this end.
Humor permeates the play with the antics of Paul drawing horns and mustache on a picture of Jefferson, to his political t-shirts, and him borrowing roll-on deodorant from Jay. Celia keeps the audience laughing with her frequent response to things as “sick”, her interpretation of a 15 year old daughter in 1859 and her incessant want of alcohol, Jay is hilarious just being his character: an uptight, follow the rules, don’t get too involved kind of guy. Since there is a film being made for the anniversary, entertainment is necessary so the three lip sync, Dolly Parton’s song ‘Here You Come Again’ with all the appropriate accouterments (blond wigs and boa feathers). The disconnected voice of the director of the film adds additional humor in his attempt to reel in his actors.
However, there is a seriousness that permeates the play. Paul focuses on the important role that John Brown played in American history while also stating that enough is not being done to help the families that are being separated at American borders. He connects our history with our present. All the while, Jay is attempting to find if he is related to Dangerfield Newby who was one of the 22 men serving under John Brown. Celia is dealing with a high school rape, while attempting to rationalize the love of her father who works for ICE and her own liberal, pacifist ideals. The imagery of water throughout the play with all of its meaning brings a sense of solemness and beauty. Dang, Fisher, and Richmond’s acting keeps the audience enthralled throughout the 100 minute play.
The scenery is simple, versatile and compliments the actors (Scenic & Lighting Director, Andrew Hungerford). A TV, which is on the stage, has static on it throughout the play but comes into focus during certain scenes. The most notable and powerful use of the TV is when it shows soldiers marching when the actors are singing The Battle Hymn of the Republic. The “broad” swords and other props sounded and looked real (Kayla Williams). The well designed costumes (Noelle Wedig-Johnston) which include the ranger’s outfits and street clothes (which often had to go over the ranger outfits due to timing) are typical of the time the play takes place (2019). Director Tamara Winters should be applauded for an outstanding play.
Spend an hour and a half thoroughly entertained by going to see Harpers Ferry 2019. It is playing through March 20 at the Know Theater. For more information or tickets CLICK HERE