"Do Lord Remember Me"
Where: Arena Players, 801 McCulloh St.
When: 8:30 p.m. Fridays, 7:30 p.m. Saturdays, 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sundays. Through Feb. 27
Call: (410) 728-6500
Few subjects are more appropriate for Black History Month than the history of slavery, and Arena Players' production of James Jongh's "Do Lord Remember Me" has a number of compelling moments, despite its rather simplistic approach.
Structured as a series of vignettes related by elderly former slaves who explain that they are addressing an audience of mostly children, the show -- which includes spirituals, superstitions and legends -- underestimates the knowledge of history held by a 1990s audience, even an audience of children.
However, several of the more personal vignettes are powerfully written and presented, under the direction of Robert Russell.
As is Arena's custom, the production is double-cast. At Sunday's matinee, Sherron Evans' straightforward delivery added an eerie undertone to the Greek tragedy-like tale of a mother and son who were sold to different masters. The mother later married, only to recognize a scar on her husband's back and realize she had wed her own son.
Eric Burton gave a skin-crawling re-enactment of a slave being whipped with hot switches, which he was ordered to cut and heat for his own beating. Michael Harris related an ironic account of a slave church that was allowed to hold services only if a white preacher was present. The preacher's text, invariably, was Ephesians 6:5 ("Servants be obedient to them that are your masters"). And Brian Smith earned patriotic applause by donning a Union uniform and portraying one of the first black cavalry soldiers.
But the most moving story was told by Darleen Owens, who held her face in an extremely contorted position throughout most of the production. Near the end of the show, Owens explained that when her character was a small child, her face was crushed under a rocking chair by a mistress who tempted her into stealing a piece of candy.
These and other moving accounts are so sincerely delivered that you can overlook the obvious old-age makeup worn by the young cast. However, it's a little more difficult to overlook the uneven choral singing by a small backstage choir, particularly after hearing Katrina Y. Jones' stirring solo rendition of "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" at the start of the show.