Theater review

Theater review: 'Let Them Be Heard' is riveting, emotional experience

CorrespondentFebruary 25, 2014 

  • Details

    What: “Let Them Be Heard (In Winter)” – presented by Bare Theatre

    Where: Historic Stagville, 5828 Old Oxford Highway, Durham

    When: 6, 7, and 8 p.m. Feb. 28 and March 1

    Where: ArtsCenter, 300-G E. Main St., Carrboro

    When: 8 p.m. March 7-8 and 14-15; 3 p.m. March 9 and 16

    Tickets: $10 at both locations

    Info: 919-620-0120 or; 919-929-2787 or

The immediacy of live performance allows great emotional impact. When actors speak words of real people, performed in historically relevant locations, the results can be riveting. Such is the case for Bare Theatre’s “Let Them Be Heard (in Winter),” the company’s third staging of slave narratives (and the first not in summer) on the grounds of Durham’s Stagville, a pre-Civil War plantation.

The words come from interviews with former slaves, undertaken in the late 1930s by the Federal Writers’ Project. Director G. Todd Buker has selected six from North Carolina with local connections, editing them into ten-minute monologs for an hour-long presentation. Audience members move from one location to another, led by guides with lanterns. Huddled in the cramped unheated cabins or at a fire pit in front of them, attendees can feel the reality of slave living conditions.

In historic costuming, the actors speak directly to the viewers, using authentic accents and mannerisms. Their proximity to the audience, enhanced by flickering shadows and night chill, make the experience moving and eye-opening.

Warren Keyes’ David Blount of Beaufort County is a gentle, grateful man, reflecting positively on his days with his master, who took him along as his personal servant in the war. As Patsy Mitchner of Raleigh, Barbette Hunter gives a bitter account of the bewilderment former slaves had in their new-found but unguided freedom. Terra Hodge’s Mattie Curtis of Raleigh tells of constant beatings and the bearing of 19 children, most dying early.

Malcolm Green as Ben Johnson of Durham recounts harrowing days at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan, permanently setting his mind adrift. Gil Faison’s Thomas Hall of Raleigh angrily lashes out at the idea that former slaves had any real freedom, accusing whites of offering little help and exploiting their plight. As John Thomas Williams of Raleigh, Phillip B. Smith bemoans the terrible sorrow of not knowing who he is, neither remembering his parents and siblings nor able to find any record of them.

These memories are shot through with heartrending and throat-tightening moments. Best experienced at Stagville, they’ll also be staged in March at Carrboro’s ArtsCenter in a longer presentation with additional narratives.

Either way, despite disconcerting descriptions and frank language, these stories need to be heard, lest we forget their disturbing origins.


News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service