Stronger and Leaner, Nat's Last Struggle Returns
“Nat’s Last Struggle,” the ninth and final new play of the Norfolk Summer Play Fest, opened last night at The Venue, and though I’d seen an earlier version (and reviewed it here), I found myself caught in its spell once again. The story alone is captivating.
But my earlier review (posted in the Thinking Dog Reviews archives for 2009) really says it all about the spell of this production. There isn’t much I’d write differently now.
George T. Davis III, the solo actor who plays Nat Turner, has modulated his powerful voice and is more centered in his role than in 2009. His performance is very convincing yet still developing, and if he has the opportunity to keep playing this role it can only keep growing in subtlety and complexity.
For if nothing else Nat Turner was a complex character—a point playwright Patti Wray has digested well. She has captured and Davis has brought to the stage a man we can understand.
In her Nat, the Christian gospels have become so entwined in his consciousness with the horror of being a slave that all he can imagine is an apocalyptic resolution between good and evil which, he increasingly believes, God has chosen him to instigate.
I suppose today we might call Nat Turner a terrorist. But we can also see why Nat might think the way he did. Given his circumstances, any of us might conclude that God has chosen us to free our people from the horrors of bondage. It’s a common theme among the religious insane.
The trouble with the insanity theory is that Nat’s visions were literally prophetic. They foresaw the Civil War, much as the Apostle John foresaw the fall of Rome in his Revelation (which Nat especially related to).
Wray has pruned this version from the last, cleaning out some dead wood and adding further details. Though barely an hour long, it’s a surprise to realize it’s over. Nat is washed clean in the blood of the lamb, justified and forgiven, if only in his own mind.
“Nat’s Last Struggle” remains as much education as strong drama. Many people, black and white, don’t know the story of Nat Turner, and, while Wray makes no claim to a factual biography, she may have one-bettered history by giving us a Nat who is not shadowy but definite and also credible.
Finally, there’s a lot in this piece concerning what the cost of slavery has been for both races. The conclusions are quite verifiable in slavery’s long aftermath, which continues to this day. Michelle Bachman recently assured us of that.
Dani Spratley deftly handles the relatively complex light and sound cues of the current production. It’s worth seeing and hearing and continues at The Venue tonight at 8, tomorrow (Sunday) at 2:30, and next Friday and Saturday Aug. 26-27, at 8. For more information and reservations, call 757-469-0337. The Venue is located at 631 W. 35th St., Norfolk, VA.
I hope in a later post to offer my reflections as I look back on the first season of the Norfolk Summer Play Fest.