University Theatre will present Rita Dove’s The Darker Face of the Earth, directed by associate professor Freda Scott Giles, Nov. 1-11 at 8 p.m. and Nov. 11 at 2:30 p.m. in the Fine Arts Theatre. Tickets are $16, $12 for UGA students.
Dove, a former Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner, set The Darker Face of the Earth on a pre-Civil War plantation in South Carolina. She loosely based the plot on the Greek myth of King Oedipus, an abandoned son who unwittingly returns to his birthplace, kills his father and marries his mother. The play grapples with the historical reality of American slavery to confront still-urgent questions about freedom, reconciliation and prejudice.
In a twist on the traditional crime of white male slave owners’ sexual use of female slaves, the play’s plantation owner is a married woman, Amalia Jennings, played by Sarah Newby Halicks, a senior theatre and Spanish major from Peachtree City. Amalia’s affair with slave Hector, played by Moses McGruder, a master of fine arts in performance student from Augusta, produces a beloved child who she reluctantly gives up. Unable to love freely and openly in defiance of strong social norms, over time Amalia grows bitter and becomes a savage “master” who rules her plantation with absolute power. Hector loses his mind and retreats to a solitary life in the woods.
Twenty years after Hector and Amalia’s affair, recently enslaved Augustus, played by Dane Alexander, a senior theatre major from Atlanta, arrives at the Jennings plantation. He is a bold and poetic man who speaks of Greek gods and goddesses and fears nothing. He tries to recruit the young slave Phebe, played by Danielle Mills, a master of fine arts in performance student from New York City, as a revolutionary leader and ignores the warnings of Scylla, played by Vallea Woodbury, a master of fine arts in performance student from New York City, a soothsayer among the slaves who warns Augustus of impending doom.
“Rita Dove has given us a poetic evocation of that past that encourages each of us to find a more clear understanding of its resonance in our present and of our need to face it as we step into our collective future,” said Giles, a faculty member in the department of theatre and film studies and associate director of the Institute of African American Studies in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.
The University Theatre production, with its cast of nearly 20 actors, retains a sense of a classical Greek chorus. Athens drummer Ryan “Manito” Wendel will provide live percussive accompaniment designed to evoke rich African tradition.
“We are incredibly excited to be presenting this mesmerizing play by one of America’s most celebrated writers, a play that draws on timeless tragic themes to pose distinctively American questions about race, freedom, power and love,” said David Saltz, head of the theatre and film studies department.
The performances are part of the nine-day Spotlight on the Arts festival.