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World premiere of ‘TOM,’ adapted for stage by Ellen Geer,
reframes Harriet Beecher Stowe’s ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’
TOPANGA, Calif. (May 19, 2016) — Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum presents TOM, a world premiere stage adaptation of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ that offers a new look at the power of Stowe’s most famous novel and at the true grit of its title character. Written by artistic director Ellen Geer and featuring folk music of the period, TOM joins the repertory season at Theatricum’s spectacular outdoor amphitheatre in Topanga on June 18.
Long before Black Lives Matter entered our lexicon, Stowe’s most famous novel about a slave who demonstrates great strength in the face of overwhelming brutality rallied abolitionists worldwide. Inspired by the draconian measures of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 — which made it illegal to help or harbor runaway slaves — and by the words of former slave, social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer and statesman Frederick Douglas, Stowe first released ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ in serial format in a weekly newspaper beginning June 5, 1851 with the subtitle ‘The Man That Was a Thing.’ Geer sets her adaptation 35 years later, in 1886, following the death of Stowe’s husband. According to historians, that was the year when Stowe’s health began to deteriorate and she succumbed to what is now believed to have been Alzheimer’s. Obsessed with ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin,’ she devoted the remainder of her life to re-writing it again and again.
“In the play, Harriet is rewriting her novel once more in her later years, so you see her passion for its themes,” explains Geer. “The dehumanization of Tom, who was a man of peace. Laws stating that slaves were not allowed to read or write or keep their children. Debasement of women. It’s so important that modern audiences see and feel what slavery really meant. One cannot work towards repairing racism without honoring and depicting the past reality of slavery.”
In its day, ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ was wildly popular, selling more copies than the Bible and marshalling anti-slavery sentiment nationwide. Abraham Lincoln famously credited it as the catalyst to Civil War, calling Stowe “the little lady who made this great war.” In recent years, however, negative associations have overshadowed the historical impact of the book.
According to David Reynolds, a distinguished professor at the CUNY Graduate Center who is the author of ‘Mightier than the Sword: Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the Battle for America,’ “[Stowe’s] main character, Uncle Tom, is distant from the cringing sycophant or spineless sell-out that the epithet ‘Uncle Tom’ signifies today. That misleading image arose later on, during the Jim Crow era, when Uncle Tom was inaccurately portrayed on stage as an obedient old fool. In the novel, Tom is gentle but also self-reliant and strong.”
“I want people to know that this book changed forever how Americans viewed slavery, the system that treated people as property, as ‘things’ rather than as human beings,” Geer says. ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ demanded that the United States deliver on the promise of freedom and equality, galvanized the abolition movement and contributed to the outbreak of the Civil War. Tom was a man of great strength and dignity who has gotten an undeserved bad rap in recent years. I hope this play sheds new light on Stowe’s characters and message.”
TOM stars Gerald C. Rivers in the title role and Melora Marshall as Harriet Beecher Stowe alongside Thad Geer, Tim Halligan, Mark Lewis, Earnestine Phillips, Taylor Jackson Ross, Shannon Shepherd and Elizabeth Tobias. Also in the cast are Lily Andrew, Celeste Arrazolo, Caitlin Durkin, Eben Eldridge, Ian Flanders, Liam Flanders, Angelo Fowler, Durant Fowler, Daphne Gabriel, Jasmine Gatewood, Bradley Gosnell, Kevin Hudnell, Jasmine Nicole Jacquet, Roderick Jean-Charles, Vanduncan Johnson-Phillips, Finn Kerwin, Shane McDermott, Jeffrey McFarland, Julia Merius, Candace Nicholas-Lippman, Clarence Powell, Talya Sindel, Celina Lee Surniak, Sky Wahl and Lane Wray
Sound design is by Ian Flanders; lighting design is by Zach Moore; costume design is by Maggie Clapis; and the wardrobe supervisor is Beth Glasner. The props master is Sydney Russell; assistant stage manager is Karen Osborne; and the production stage manager is Kim Cameron. The dramaturg is Jennie Webb.
Harriet Elisabeth Beecher Stowe (1811-1896) wrote 30 books, including novels, three travel memoirs and collections of articles and letters. She came from a well-known religious family and was influential for both her writings and her public stands on social issues of the day.
With its one-of-a-kind outdoor setting in the heart of Topanga Canyon and its roots in the 1950s McCarthy-era Hollywood blacklist — when actor Will Geer created the theater as a haven for blacklisted actors — Theatricum is best known for its productions that frame contemporary social issues through the lens of classic literature. Unlike most theaters in the L.A. area that stage continuous runs of a single play, Theatricum performs five plays in repertory each season, making it possible to see all of the plays in a single summer weekend, with many of the same actors performing in two or more.
Theatricum Botanicum has been named “One of the 50 Coolest Places in Los Angeles” by Buzz magazine, “One of Southern California’s most beguiling theater experiences” by Sunset magazine, and “Best Theater in the Woods” by the LA Weekly. “The enchantment of a midsummer night at Theatricum Botanicum [makes it] crystal clear why audiences have been driving up into the hills since Theatricum’s maiden season way back in 1973. Summer Shakespeare doesn’t get any better than this,” writes StageSceneLA. Says Los Angeles magazine, “The amphitheater feels like a Lilliputian Hollywood Bowl, with pre-show picnics and puffy seat cushions, yet we were close enough to see the stitching on the performers costumes. Grab a blanket and a bottle and head for the hills.”
TOM opens on Saturday, June 18 at 7:30 p.m. and continues through Oct. 1. Tickets range from $10-$38.50; children 4 and under are free. Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum is located at 1419 North Topanga Canyon Blvd. in Topanga, midway between Malibu and the San Fernando Valley. For a complete schedule of performances and to purchase tickets, call 310–455-3723 or log onto www.theatricum.com. Visit Theatricum on facebook: www.facebook.com/theatricum. Follow us on twitter: @theatricum.
Details for Calendar Listings
TOM — Ellen Geer’s free adaptation with music brings new eyes to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin.’ Long before Black Lives Matter was part of our lexicon, Stowe’s great novel demanded freedom and equality for all, changing forever how Americans viewed slavery, galvanizing the abolition movement and contributing to the outbreak of the Civil War.
• Adapted for the stage by Ellen Geer from “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” by Harriet Beecher Stowe
• Dramaturg Jennie Webb
• Directed by Ellen Geer
• Starring Gerald C. Rivers (Tom), Earnestine Phillips (Aunt Chloe), Thad Geer (Simon Legree), Tim Halligan (Haley), Mark Lewis (Augustine St. Clare), Melora Marshall (Harriet Beecher Stowe), Taylor Jackson Ross (Mrs. Shelby), Shannon Shepherd (Mammy), Elizabeth Tobias (Miss Ophelia)
• Also featuring Lily Andrew, Celeste Arrazolo, Caitlin Durkin, Eben Eldridge, Ian Flanders, Liam Flanders, Angelo Fowler, Durant Fowler, Daphne Gabriel, Jasmine Gatewood, Bradley Gosnell, Kevin Hudnell, Jasmine Nicole Jacquet, Roderick Jean-Charles, Vanduncan Johnson-Phillips, Finn Kerwin, Shane McDermott, Jeffrey McFarland, Julia Merius, Candace Nicholas-Lippman, Clarence Powell, Talya Sindel, Celina Lee Surniak, Sky Wahl, Lane Wray
• Presented by Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum
Performances: June 18–Oct. 1
• Saturday, June 18 at 7:30 p.m.
• Sunday, June 19 at 7:30 p.m.
• Saturday, June 25 at 7:30 p.m.
• Sunday, June 26 at 3:30 p.m.*
• Sunday, July 3 at 7:30 p.m.
• Saturday, July 9 at 3:30 p.m.
• Saturday, July 16 at 7:30 p.m.
• Saturday, July 30 at 3:30 p.m.
• Saturday, Aug. 6 at 7:30 p.m.
• Saturday, Aug. 13 at 3:30 p.m.
• Saturday, Aug. 20 at 3:30 p.m.
• Sunday, Aug. 28 at 3:30 p.m.
• Sunday, Sept. 4 at 3:30 p.m.
• Sunday, Sept. 11 at 3:30 p.m.
• Saturday, Sept. 17 at 7:30 p.m.
• Saturday, Sept. 24 at 3:30 p.m.
• Saturday, Oct. 1 at 3:30 p.m.
*Prologue (pre-show discussion):Sunday, June 26 at 2:30 pm.(included in ticket price)
Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum
1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd.
Topanga CA 90290
(midway between Pacific Coast Highway and the Ventura Freeway)
• (310) 455-3723 or www.theatricum.com
• Visit us on facebook: www.facebook.com/theatricum
• Follow us on twitter: @theatricum
• Adults: $38.50 (lower tier); $25 (upper tier)
• Seniors (65+), Students, Military Veterans, Teachers, AEA Members: $25/$15
• Children (5-15): $10
• Children 4 and under: Free
The outdoor amphitheater at Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum is terraced into the hillside of the rustic canyon. Audience members are advised to dress casually (warmly for evenings) and bring cushions for bench seating. Snacks are available for purchase, and picnickers are welcome before and after the performance.