When New Horizon Inc. Chairperson Joyce Meggerson-Moore was searching for a play for her company to perform for its annual Black History Month celebration, she knew James de Jongh’s “Do Lord Remember Me” was the perfect production.
“This is a story that must be told and we’re telling it,” Meggerson-Moore said.
“Some stories are uplifting and some are tearful. In the past we’ve told true stories with our plays. Last year we did ‘Black Pearl Sings’ and ‘Hi-Hat Hattie’ the year before, and we thought ‘Do Lord Remember Me’ would be perfect for the family.”
And she was right. “Do Lord Remember Me” was one of the best productions that New Horizon Theater Inc. has presented. Despite the non-theater venue of the Union Project, the heart-retching and humorous stories of the slaves daily lives placed between beautiful soaring old Negro spiritual songs, the perseverance of the 1930s slave brilliantly shone through.
The play is a collage of song, movement and powerful storytelling that is a testimony to the indomitable spirit of the Black experience. Six actors lead the audience—from pre-Civil War days and beyond—through the tears and laughter of true stories to find a way forward through the struggles of the past. The spiritual docudrama was drawn from recorded interviews of ex-slaves who are between 80 and 90 years old as part of the 1930s Federal Writer’s Project.
Each of the six actors portrayed various characters ranging from childhood to adulthood, to show the audience how the slaves survived each day.
“When I first got the script, I read a few pages and I had to put it down,” confessed actress Camille Washington. “Slavery in a nutshell is a system under which people are treated as property to be bought and sold, and are forced to work. The fact that Black people were once slaves and were treated as property, and on many occasions even worst than the actual property that their owners owned, never gets easy to hear or see.”
Despite the horrific material in “Do Lord Remember Me,” the actors embraced the loving and caring community that the slaves created.
“This is an actor’s dream because you get to play so many different characters,” said Karla C. Payne, a veteran stage actress that has appeared in numerous Pittsburgh theater productions. “I want people to reflect on the resilience of Black people of that day. They lived and made it through tragedy. They were able to strive and grow.”
That resilience is one of the reasons Eileen J. Morris, artistic director of the Ensemble Theatre, in Houston, returned to Pittsburgh to direct the show.
“When I think about the journey that we have taken, the rivers that we have crossed and the obstacles that have been put forth for us, I am filled with pride of the way that we have withstood our troubles. Through this play we are reminded of our inner strength that allowed us to hold our heads up high, believe in ourselves and have the will to dare and triumph.”
The strength and pride of the characters, and the chance to work with Morris again, are the reasons Kevin Brown decided to return to New Horizon’s stage after a six-year absence.
“Eileen asked me to come back. The richness of the stories about our people gives you the opportunity to stretch as a performer. This play shows people—especially our young people of today who don’t think that they have to give respect to their elders—that we all have the chance to be a powerful person,” said Brown, who last appeared as Old Joe in Pittsburgh Playwright’s production of August Wilson’s “Radio Golf.”
Gary Perkins III is happy that he was able to make his New Horizon Theater debut with “Do Lord Remember Me.”
“There’s not that many plays that deal with slavery,” explained Perkins, who has performed with the Point Park Conservatory as Mr. Morse in “Hot Baltimore.” “There was a lot of weight on us to put this out there for people to see how far we have come and where we are going. It’s great to have these stories from our people.”
The a cappella Negro Spirituals that are weaved between the slaves’ stories is what drew Delana Flowers to participate in the show.
“Music has been a part of our culture for years. Music was an escape for a lot of people back then and it still is today,” said Flowers who has appeared in many local productions including ‘Black Nativity’ and ‘Nothing But the Blues.’ “Gospel music has its roots in slavery.”
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