Damien J. Wallace, Danielle Leneé, Dax Richardson, and Aaron Bell in MY GENERAL TUBMAN. Photo by Wide Eyed Studios
My General Tubman connects two stories. One is set in present day Philadelphia and highlights a scenario that happens all too often- a young man named Nelson (played by Brandon Pierce) is charged with a crime he didn’t commit; his story is ignored and he’s sent to prison. There, he meets a guard, a chaplain, and another prisoner. All of these people help Nelson as they are also needing help in some way. Enter, Harriet Tubman.
Yes, the Harriet Tubman.
The second story of this play features Danielle Lenee in the roll of the American abolitionist who helped free many slaves through the Underground Railroad’s safe houses and secret routes. This part of My General Tubman is set in the 1800s. We see Tubman, as a character, has spells where she falls asleep and is transported to our city in order to guide Nelson and his companions.
In real life, Tubman suffered head trauma which caused hypersomnia and strange visions (premonitions from God, she would say). Even though the thought of a time-traveling Harriet Tubman seems incredibly far-fetched, it just makes sense here that her visions and spirit help out people in need 100 years later. Her impact still exists today, doesn’t it? So this plot really isn’t odd at all.
Harriet Tubman is the type of historical figure you would invite to your dinner table in that common ice-breaker question (living or dead, who would you invite?). She’s strong, determined, and there’s so much more we could ask about her life and career- like those real-life visions. Danielle Lanee channels her beautifully in this play. It’s easy to understand why someone such as Nelson Davis (and his unseen sister) would feel safe imagining she is guiding them.
Though Tubman traveled far and wide, memorizing safe routes, ultimately helping John Brown plan attack on slaveholders, Philadelphia is the most important and valid setting for My General Tubman. There are many Underground Railroad points throughout this area. It’s also where Tubman ran to after escaping from her life as a slave in Maryland.
Philadelphia is the home of My General Tubman‘s playwright Lorene Cary. Cary is an incredible voice in this city, not just as an author (her novel The Price of a Child was chose as the first One Book, One Philadelphia), but also as a professor at the University of Penn (in English and Africana studies). She founded the Arts Sanctuary to enrich urban Philadelphia with black arts, and SafeKidsStories which focuses on the safety of children. Through her #VotethatJawn project, Cary also encourages youth registration and voting. Like Harriet Tubman, she’s guiding people to feel safe and she offers hope. This is her first play. After seeing the story she tells on the Arden’s stage, I’m hoping not her last.
It’s exciting to see a play born in Philadelphia and I’m looking forward to watching it grow. The historical aspects combined with a bit of fantasy is a perfect recipe for a bigger stage and bigger reach. This has Broadway potential, no doubt, as it tells a powerful story of the slave trade and how Tubman’s impact is linked to 2020 (here, in the prison system). My General Tubman has recently been extended through March 8th so more people will have the opportunity to hear this unique, brave story. You can purchase tickets here.