‘Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl’ Proves Why Reading Is Empowering
No, Armstrong isn't a spirit medium, but she may as well have been because she fully embodied Jacobs in this stunning, powerful and enlightening one-woman show. With raw emotion cultivated from hours of exhaustive research and careful direction under the tutelage of Wynn Handman at the American Place Theatre, Armstrong resurrected Jacobs for a 50 minute performance tonight's audience won't soon forget.
As we watched, we fell under the spell of an actress at the top of her game, as she spoke Jacobs' precise words and captivated our imaginations with the true story of a woman born a slave. In less than an hour she recounted Jacobs story of survival during one of the most atrocious periods of American history.
By turns Armstrong broke our hearts as we watched children sold at slave auctions in front of devastated mothers, then renewed our faith in the capacity of the human spirit as Jacobs survived seven years trapped hiding in a tiny room in her grandmother's attic.
To punctuate various scenes in the play, Armstrong also broke into song with her beautiful alto voice, singing a mixture of early-American folk music and haunting spirituals that captured the essence of the moment.
Whether Jacobs sobbed over the loss of a lover or watched as her children played in the yard below her, never knowing that she was hidden away just out of sight, music was brilliantly used in this otherwise straight play to propel the story and change the scene, which was particularly difficult since the entire play was void of props and set changes.
In the end, Armstrong reminds us that one of the things that got Jacobs through her days as a slave was that her childhood mistress had taught her to read and write. With that knowledge Jacobs was empowered so that she could ultimately write her story to implore the white women of the North to help and understand the plight of the female slave.
When the lights finally came up and the crowd left the theater tonight, I couldn't help but feel that Armstrong's performance reminded us all that we are the masters of our own fate. Men can strip us of our rights. They can rob us of our freedom and can even end our lives, if they so choose. But if we truly value the ability to read and write, they can never take away our knowledge, our dreams and our faith. With these tools, like Jacobs, we can find our resilience, our strength and ultimately, our voice.