Review by Shiyanbade Animashaun
(Boston, MA) A Woman Ain’t I, A Depiction of Sojourner Truth is a One-Woman show about select moments in the life of Sojourner Truth. Creator Kathryn Woods has played this role since the 90s, though perhaps this was the first time it was broadcast into people’s homes via a Facebook Live stream.
The play is approached like a conversation. The set is a bedroom, and audiences were not asked to imagine it as anything but. Truth left her bed with a song and after getting ready for the day proceeded to depict her life in enslavement, her escape, wrestles with God, fights for her family, and connections to other celebrities of the day. She switched deftly from speech to song, and remembrance to acting as if transported to the memories she recounted.
With songs like ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘Babylon’s Falling’, Woods enraptured the audience with her singing and pulled us into the story. It is steeped in history, and more importantly, Sojourner’s feelings about matters, as opposed to those of Woods. An example is Truth’s warm recollection of meeting Abraham Lincoln, during which he addressed her as ‘Auntie’. This is told with the proud remembrance of an important moment. After the monologue, during a ‘talk back’ session with Woods as Truth and later, herself, audience members learn how Truth waited for hours before she was seen and that the use of ‘Auntie’ by Lincoln to Truth would have been derogatory in that time.
During the ‘talk back’, she broke character early when recognizing a friends name in the comments, and responded as herself. It was a lighthearted moment that one could easily map to the type of in-person discussion one might have after a performance in front of a small group. The deeply knowledgeable responses from Woods made me realize how little about Truth I knew. It left me wondering how other historical figures would shine in an interpretation by Woods.
In reviewing this performance, I found a recording of a live performance from earlier in the year. Comparing the two, Woods certainly knows her Truth. In both, she mentioned some of the same additional information about Truth and her family, while fielding unique questions. At times, it was unclear if responses were scripted or off the cuff. The inclusion of an audience to respond to and play off of added to her charm during the final discussion. She was just as charming on my living room TV, answering and reacting to Facebook comments.
Though viewers may have had to deal with internet connection issues or start time delays, History at Play, LLC navigated this well. I imagine future shows will continue to improve on past performances, as audiences and theaters get more accustomed to this mode of delivery. A Woman Ain’t I, A Depiction of Sojourner Truth was certainly a great example of remote theatre done well.