From left, Jasmine Nicole Jacquet, Gerald C. Rivers as Tom; Vanduncan Johnson-Phillips, Earnestine Phillips and Charis Hollomon. For tickets, go to Theatricum.com.
Developed for the stage by writer and director Ellen Geer, TOM provides a new look at Harriet Beecher Stowes bestseller, Uncle Toms Cabin.
Geers adaptation of the novel highlights the true characteristics of the strong, determined, loving Uncle Tom alongside the brutal nature of Americas slave-trading past, while also providing unique insights into the life of the revolutionary feminist behind the famous novel. Set in 1886, just after the death of Stowes husband, the play follows Harriet Beecher Stowe as she deals with her own declining health while obsessively re-writing her manuscript of Uncle Toms Cabin. The play alternates between scenes of Stowe at her writing desk and the struggle playing out among the novels main characters.
Jasmine Gatewood as Eliza and Angelo Fowler as her son as they run away from their slave owner in Kentucky.
When not directly scripting the novel or discussing the political injustice flaming her literary fire, Harriets character watches, emotionally wrought by the characters hardships and their seemingly insurmountable fight against slavery.
The play opens with Harriet at her desk writing and gives reference to her outrage over the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 before jumping into the beginning of the novel. Its here we meet George Harris and his wife, Eliza, as they make the decision to run away from their master, a Kentucky farmer named Mr. Shelby.
(l-r) Taylor Jackson Ross with Melora Marshall, who plays the author Harriet Beecher Stowe.
The adaptation continues to flow smoothly through the novels original story line, with cuts between Stowe and her novels iconic characters.
On Mr. Shelbys property, we meet the kind and strong Tom, played tremendously well by Gerald C. Rivers, as he deals with the news of his sale to a slave trader. From this initial scene, Rivers portrays Tom with class and skill, shining new light on his depth of character and caring nature.
Stuck within the confines of the aggressive slave trader, Tom saves the child, Eva, and is subsequently purchased by the childs father, Simeon Augustine. Under the ownership of the Augustine family, Tom is promised his freedom, yet when Simeon dies of unnatural causes, the mans wife revokes the promise.
Here enters the antagonist, Simon Legree, an evil plantation owner who purchases Tom, taking him to the depths of plantation country in Southern Louisiana. At Legrees plantation, Toms Christian faith is tested regularly by the brutalities to which hes subjected; yet through all the suffering and cruelty, Tom never falters.
On his deathbed, Tom has the courage to forgive his murderers, changing the lives of the novels characters forever and positively impacting society for generations to come.
TOMs message remains righteous throughout, admonishing all forms of slavery and inequality in the world, yet solid in the belief that goodness triumphs over evil.
The cast has many standout performers. Gerald C. Rivers, as Tom, carries the show with emotion and strength. Melora Marshall as Harriet Beecher Stowe gives a gripping performance. Jasmine Gatewood, as Eliza, brings character depth and a beautifully trained voice. Shannon Shepherd, as Cassie, brings powerful monologues and stage presence. Clarence Powell, as Quimbo, seethes palpable anger and internal contradiction in his role as plantation overseer, and Thad Geer, as Simon Legree, shines as the antagonistic symbol of evil, a man caught between his need for power, control and his own demons.
Through the study of Uncle Toms Cabin and the experience of viewing TOM, we are reminded of the importance of the great novel and the impact of literature and art to create social change.
Stowe wrote a daring novel and took an outright stance against a major political issue. Breaking all societal rules for a woman of her time, she attempted to bring justice and progress to humanity through the arts. We can all learn a great deal from Stowe, find inspiration through her fight for equality, and be reminded of the treacherous system of slavery that impacts our nation and world still today.
Slavery is not a dead issue. Through challenging social and economic forces were experiencing a modern resurgence of slavery. Its estimated that more than 21 million people worldwide are enslaved today; most are stuck in some form of labor slavery (78%) and sex slavery (22%).
Today, the slave industry generates $150 billion dollars for traffickers each year. To learn more about the modern day slavery epidemic and to find out how you can help, please visit: Free The Slaves: freetheslaves.net.
TOM runs through October 1. Completing this years series of plays are: A Midsummer Nights Dream, that runs through September 23; Romeo and Juliet, that runs through October 2; The Imaginary Invalid opens Saturday, July 9, and runs through October 2; and Titus Andronicus, opens Saturday, July 30 and runs through October 1.
Tickets range from $10-$38.50; children six and under are free. For further information, a complete performance schedule and to purchase tickets: (310) 455-3723 or at Theatricum.com.
Will Geers Theatricum Botanicum is located at 1419 North Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga, CA 90290.