Play: "Harriet’s Return: Based Upon the Legendary Life of Harriet Tubman”

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Karen Marie Jones Meadows as Harriet Tubman. Photo by Ron Ross.

[Celebrate Black History]

The extraordinary life of Harriet Tubman, the abolitionist, Black feminist and entrepreneur who freed 300 people enslaved in the South through the Underground Railroad, is honored during Black History Month with Woodie King, Jr.'s New Federal Theatre’s production of  "Harriet's Return: Based Upon the Legendary Life of Harriet Tubman."

The play is performed and written by Karen Jones Meadows and directed by Clinton Turner Davis from February 8 to March 4 at Castillo Theatre, 543 West 42nd Street.

“This is a play about love and freedom,” explained Jones Meadows, an award-winning playwright. “I fell in love with Harriet’s normalcy and spiritual connectedness that guided her from childhood throughout her life.   She knew she was free from day one, as we all are.”
 
In “Harriet’s Return,” Jones Meadows performs a tour-de-force enacting the life of the historic icon from childhood through her 90s.  For almost 30 years, off and on, Jones Meadows has researched, studied, written and starred in productions that take audiences on a deeply personal, high energy journey into the private and public life of Tubman. Born into slavery in 1822 Maryland, Tubman died an entrepreneur and philanthropist in 1913 in Auburn New York.  After achieving her own freedom, Tubman made 19 journeys as an Underground Railroad conductor, rescuing Black men, women and children from slavery in the South and guiding them to freedom in Northern states and Canada.  During the Civil War, she led troops and missions and worked as a nurse and a spy. She helped pioneer the women's suffragette movement as a popular orator, she had two husbands and raised an adopted daughter. By the early 1900s, she opened the Harriet Tubman Home for Aged and Infirm Negroes.
 
“Harriet Tubman planned battles and led troops during the Civil War.  She was really smart, and in my opinion, used her intuition and psychic power to create life fulfilling adventures and gifts for herself and others. She was not afraid of life, she didn’t let the so-called odds deter her,” said Jones Meadows. “Harriet owned land-- 25 acres, when supposedly no woman was “allowed” to do so.  She always found a way to meet her objectives, and didn’t let a hard road stop her.  She was a great collaborator, and I think that’s important for us too.  When we use our collective resources, be it brains, finances, physical abilities together we make progress.”
 
"Harriet's Return" originated in 1983, when Jones Meadows was commissioned by Charlotte's Afro-American Cultural Center in North Carolina to craft a series of unwritten one-woman performances entitled "A Living Portrait of Black History”—the most popular portrayal was Harriet Tubman.

By 1992, playwright Ron Milner commissioned Jones Meadows to write a Harriet Tubman script for his youth outreach program at Paul Robeson Theater in Detroit.  She later adapted Tubman’s story for adult audiences and the first version production of “Harriet’s Return” debuted in 1995 at Crossroads Theatre in New Jersey starring Tony winner Trazana Beverley.  Other versions of the production include Debbie Allen starring as Harriet Tubman at the Geffen Playhouse and The Kennedy Center.
 
A noted playwright, Jones Meadows  won acclaim in 1985 with "Henrietta" performed at the Negro Ensemble Company and winner of a Drama League of New York Play Writing Award. Her play "Tapman" starred Moses Gunn at the Hudson Guild in 1989 and earned six AUDELCO nominations.  "Henrietta" is included in "The National Black Drama Anthology, Eleven Plays from America's Leading African American Theaters," edited by Woodie King, Jr.  She’s featured in many anthologies on women and African American playwrights. For television, she’s written several screenplays including “Yes Moments” for Fox Television; “Eclipse”, a dramatic teleplay for young adults; and “Hip Hop in the Promised Land,” a short film series for Comedy Central. Jones Meadows was awarded the McGee Professor of Writing at Davidson College for her body of work in 1995.  Other awards include W.K.Kellogg Foundation Expert in Residence, California State Assembly Certificate of Recognition and Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame Short Comedy Film Award.
 
“Harriet’s Return” is a play that helps you transcend yourself,” said Jones Meadows. “We all fall prey to some sort of slavery and some of us overcome it, and others don’t.  Harriet was able to move through most of them.  She is an example of being your most powerful self, exerting the effort, transcending the fear and whatever else would keep us paralyzed in a status quo and mediocre life, with an understanding that the freedom to be yourself is worth the rigors of the journey.”
 
The director for “Harriet’s Return” is Clinton Turner Davis. Lighting design is by Antoinette Tynes “T,” set design is by Chris Cumberbatch, costume designer is Ali Turns and stage manager is Bayo.
 
Woodie King, Jr.'s New Federal Theatre’s production of "Harriet's Return: Based Upon the Legendary Life of Harriet Tubman," opened February 10 and plays through March 4 at the Castillo Theater, 543 West 42nd Street. Performance days are: Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 PM, Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 PM (20 performances).

Tickets are $40 general admission, $30 students and seniors and groups (10 or more) $25. Box office: www castillo.org, 212-941-1234 producing company www.newfederaltheatre.com
 

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