Past and present, history and a touch of fantasy converge on stage in the world premiere of Beyond the Oak Trees, by Kisha Bundridge, at Crossroads Theatre Company in New Brunswick, Feb. 16-26. The play offers a dramatic retelling of the daring story of Harriet Tubman, former slave and fabled abolitionist who led hundreds of slaves to freedom along the Underground Railroad in the years leading up to the Civil War.
Set in the present at the Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged in Auburn, N.Y., (designated a National Historical Park on Jan. 10, 2017), and in the past on the treacherous route to freedom. Beyond the Oak Trees brings audiences into the heart and mind of Tubman.
Two college students, Joseph and Hodari, visit the home for a history project and discover their own history embedded within its walls, inhabited by an ethereal woman named Jessica who seems to know more than the average guide. The history they are studying comes to life as Tubman leads a group of vulnerable, frightened slaves north from Maryland on her last journey as “the Moses of her people.”
The play continues Crossroads’ “celebration of a woman’s gift,” the season’s theme honoring the power, glory and struggles of women in its mainstage productions.
“This play gives a very intimate account of the humanity and burdens that Ms. Tubman carried,” said director Marshall Jones III, who also is the theater’s producing artistic director. “It also offers a unique glimpse of history from a modern perspective. Kisha has created an exciting tableau that portrays the complex nuances of cultural identity against the backdrop of American history. A must see!”
Beyond the Oak Trees features Ademide Akintilo as Hodari and Sampson, Elijah J. Coleman as Joseph and Jasper and Abigail A. Ramsay as Jessica and Harriet Tubman. Sampson and Jasper are two of Tubman’s “passengers” who rely on her for guidance and strength.
Akintilo holds a BFA and Coleman an MFA degree from the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University. Coleman also holds two BFA degrees from Buffalo University in acting and dance.
A duel U.S. and Nigerian citizen, Akintilo also trained at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and the Interlochen Arts Academy. Coleman has performed with the Buffalo City Ballet, Broadway Dance Center and Zodiaque Dance Company in addition to acting.
Ramsay holds a BA from Brown University and trained in theater at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. A versatile actor, she has performed at the Public Theater and many other venues in New York as well as regionally and internationally on stage, film and on BBC Radio.
Performances are Feb. 16, 17, 18, 23, 24 and 25 at 8 p.m.; Feb. 19, 25 and 26 at 3 p.m.; and Feb. 22 at 10 a.m. Ticket prices range from $25 for the 10 a.m. matinee to $55 for opening night on Feb. 18.
For tickets, go online to crossroadstheatrecompany.org or call (732) 545-8100. Crossroads is located at 7 Livingston Ave., New Brunswick.
Founded in 1978 by Ricardo Khan and L. Kenneth Richardson, Crossroads Theatre Company embraces the vision that African-American theater is intended for a broad-based, diverse audience. As a major force in the development of new ideas and the introduction of formerly marginalized writers, Crossroads produces works that enrich and diversify the representation of African American culture on the American stage. Crossroads was the winner of the 1999 Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theater in the United States.