And so the hilarious Brandon St. Clair is the obliging slave Davy as well as a very Black — and priceless — George Washington, resurrected from the dead. And another slave, Sucky Boy (Ralph Adriel Johnson), appears as a humorously tactless Black Thomas Jefferson.
Does the play have a happy, inspirational ending? Well, let me just say that despite Ijames’s antic fabrications, he is ultimately tethered to the tragedy that is America. And we all know how that story goes.
On the train after the show, the conversation between the two friends seemed to stretch on forever. When the white friend got off, after saying he had enjoyed the “discourse,” a fresh silence took over. Infuriated by the ignorant, racist statements I had been hearing, I walked over and spoke to the Indian American man, a lawyer named Ash.
“You’re totally right on everything,” I said. “I’m not sure you should bother.” He gave me a fist bump and said that he still wanted to try.
About halfway through the play, Priscilla says to Doll, “Hard work openin’ folks’ eyes,” to which Doll responds, “Huh … you can say that again.”
But are we all accountable for our fellow citizens who are, if not explicitly racist, at least complicit in the systems and institutions that degrade and oppress? Does Ijames consider his work educational, a corrective? I would wager not. History has taught us that even our most high-minded foundational ideals — “all men are created equal” — can be interpreted to a single group’s advantage or be a basis of manipulation. You can’t teach a person humanity if it’s a lesson they don’t want to learn.
In the fairy tale version of our country’s racial politics, we all learn about justice and skip happily toward the future. I, for one, am done with fairy tales as history — and patient explanations. Give me the harder truth of Ijames’s fantastical version any day.
The Most Spectacularly Lamentable Trial of Miz Martha Washington
Through July 30 at Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, Garrison, N.Y.; 845-265-9575, hvshakespeare.org.