It's hard to say whether "The Most Spectacularly Lamentable Trial of Miz Martha Washington" actually offers an accurate view of our country's first first lady.
What is certain, according to Lucy Breyer and Angelique Powell, is that James Ijames' play about Martha Washington and her slaves, opening Friday at the James L. Meader Little Theater in Troy, is an exciting and unique new show. Breyer plays the title character in the Black Theatre Troupe of Upstate New York production, while Powell plays three characters -- a Mount Vernon house slave, Betsy Ross and Queen Charlotte. Patrick White is directing the production, which offers Ijames' take on the final weeks of Martha Washington's life.
"When George Washington died he freed his slaves in his will, but they had to continue to serve Martha in her lifetime," said Breyer, setting up the play's premise. "So her slaves are basically waiting for her to die. That's the tension of the play. Did Martha fear for her life? It's a kernel of history that then flies into the fantasy of her own mind. It's a relatively new play, but there's no doubt in my mind we're going to see it in New York before long."
The play has been produced in Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and a few other spots around the country. This will be its regional premiere, so when Powell suggests it's a play the likes of which hasn't been seen around here, you can believe her.
"I liked the play because it's so unlike any other play of its type," said Powell, who recently performed at Curtain Call Theatre in Latham in "Old Love New Love." "It's nonlinear, engaging, yet very specific in its message. It isn't a true period piece, and there is certainly the sense that you are asking the audience for the willing suspension of disbelief.
"But it also has a way of not just conceptualizing slavery as this abstract concept that we no longer have to deal with," continued Powell, a Shaker High and Ithaca College grad. "The modern-day references are so sharp and witty, and do the mental labor for the audience to connect our current experience to our historical trauma."
Breyer and Powell are two of the Capital Region's busiest actors these days, and both say they're excited about working with the Black Theatre Troupe of Upstate New York. Originally formed in 2009 as the Soul Rebel Performance Troupe, founder Jean-Remy Monnay changed the name of his group a little more than a year ago.
"Jean-Remy and this group are phenomenal," said Powell. "This is my second show with them and every experience working with Remy is a dream. He is respectful, kind and ensures that everyone who works with him feels like family, and he succeeds."
Breyer, a Waterford resident, is working with Monnay's group for the first time, but she's been a fan for quite a while.
"I've seen many of their productions and it's been enjoyable to see this company grow," she said. "They're always doing a very adventuresome undertaking, such as a play like this. Maybe you haven't heard of it yet, but you will. So, I'm a longtime admirer of this troupe and I'm thrilled to be a part of this show.
"I'm also always looking for suitable roles for elderly ladies," added Breyer, who grew up in Alabama but moved to the Capital Region 40 years ago. "The ditsy old lady part is becoming my specialty. That got me interested, and I had never worked with Patrick White before and I've been a longtime admirer of his."
Joining Breyer and Powell onstage are Elsa Alvarez, Moriah Edmunds, Morgan Heyward, Marquis Heath and Aaron Moore.
EHS offering 'Go Slowly, Averil'
The Esperance Historical Society, recognizing that few things go hand-in-hand like theater and history, is mounting a production of Willard Martin's "Go Slowly, Averil" this weekend at the Esperance Presbyterian Church.
The play is a sequel to last year's "Getting Chet Married," a play that helped Esperance celebrate its 200th year. Both works are based on a 1925 play by Lillian Mortimer, "Go Slow, Mary."
"This is a play about the first anniversary of the two main characters from last year's play," said Martin, a retired learning-disability specialist who grew up in Esperance. "We had two performances last year and we sold out. Most of the cast is from Esperance, or at least Schoharie County, and we had a lot of fun with it last year."
Venus Louise of Esperance and Sean Jordan of Jefferson play the two leads, while also in the cast are Roger Clark of Cobleskill, Temple Wilson of Esperance and Saiorse Hooper of West Fulton. Lending their singing voices to the production are 11-year old Rock Lasky of Sharon Springs and 10-year-old Eve Wilson of Esperance.
"Our play is not a musical, but when you have kids with voices like Rock and Eve, you gotta get them singing," said Martin. "We actually have an incredible group of resumes from our cast. There are a lot of talented people in Schoharie County."
'The Most Spectacularly Lamentable Trial of Miz Martha Washington'
WHERE: Meader Little Theater on the campus of Russell Sage College, Troy
WHEN: Opens Friday and runs through June 16; performances at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $15, $10 for students and veterans
MORE INFO: www.blacktheatretroupeupstateny.org or call (518) 833-2621
'Go Slowly, Averil'
WHERE: Esperance Presbyterian Church, 129 Church St., Esperance
WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $10
MORE INFO: Visit Esperance Historical Museum on Facebook or email [email protected]