The Conductor: Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad
The B Street Theatre’s Family Series shows typically involve personal, moral choices—and their outcomes. This is true whether the show is a fairy-tale adaptation (such as the recent Beauty and the Beast) or a “bio play” about a real figure from American history, like the current show about abolitionist Harriet Tubman.
Slavery is a tricky topic for an audience of 8- to 10-year-olds. They’re usually aware that slavery is part of American history; they get that much at school. But they haven’t generally thought it through in a personal sense. The Conductor presents kids with a story of a black girl their age who is sold and separated from her parents (we hear the seller and buyer dickering) and goes to work as a domestic for a family that is demanding and cruel.
The moral choices include whether to try to escape herself (a very dangerous option), whether to return and help other slaves escape, and the peril that await whites who secretly aid escaped slaves making their way to freedom.
Playwright director Jerry R. Montoya doesn’t depict the most violent aspects of slavery onstage (you can sample that approach in the film 12 Years a Slave, which is not for kids). But Montoya doesn’t sugarcoat things, either.
Lanky actress Atim Udoffia shines as Tubman: cool under pressure, determined to bring her fear-stricken “passengers” to freedom. Actress Amy Kelly (who often plays loud, sometimes vulgar women) is effective as a committed Quaker whose deep faith leads her to risk everything to aid escaped slaves.