Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Ploughed Under and it was a music show. It wasn't really an acting show; it was a bunch of songs by Kevin O'Donnell about a bunch of different figures from American history. Kevin O'Donnell is a very good music writer and I'm happy he did the music for this show. This play is trying to make even the most of pessimists believe in America. It is kind of telling you that you shouldn't like America and it is kind of telling you you should like America. Even though we have done a bunch of horrible things, we have also done some good things. We did a bunch of terrible things in our history: like we had slaves and we wanted them to just work for us. But we stopped slavery in the civil war. And Americans also hated Indians and killed many of them but as a matter of fact Indians are Americans as well. Some of the songs made me feel happy I was an American and some of them made me feel horrible that we've done so many bad things.
When you walk in, you see a bunch of different tables and chairs and it looks kind of like a music show in a bar--but a fancy bar, not like an old and not very nice bar. It is like this because they want you to feel welcome and they also want it to feel like a real music show, which it did. It is different because they had a giant amazing stage (designed by Collette Pollard) that had all these platforms--otherwise known as tables!--they could go on. As you might know, it is harder to get singing actors that can really really sing. So, in this production they got actors that could really really sing. You don't want to just get actors or just singers, you want to get actor-singers. They were all really great, The songs are performed and sung--because when someone sings a song it is not just a song; it is a story, and all the actors are playing all these different characters.
There was a song about Squanto (Kevin Barry Crowley) who was a very kind Indian who helped the Pilgrims settle in. He had learned English when he was a slave but he got away from being a slave and came back to his land. And then he found the Pilgrims there, and you would suspect that he would be like, "Let's declare war on these people!" but he actually decided he was going to help them. It shows us what is good about America--friendliness and helping each other. They showed you how far and how long he walked by them saying he walked 2000 miles and they showed it by him walking through the audience. Just so you know, the the theatre is not 2000 miles long. It was so happy when he came home and he saw all of his family and friends and hugged them and kissed them and held their hands.
There was this song called "No Cross No Crown" and it was a really catchy tune. I thought that Carla Kessler's singing was so cool and rocking that it just brought a bunch of happiness to the song and I thought it was amazing. I thought it was really cool how Kevin played a baby drum set and I thought it was super funny. I think he did it so that people would realize that size doesn't matter. Size doesn't matter because America won the revolutionary war even though they were a colony an England was a giant Empire. And to show that he had a great sense of humor.
There was a song called "A Bell is a Cup, Until It is Struck." And it is called "A Bell is a Cup, Until It is Struck" because they are saying that usually washing dishes is a woman's job and working a bell to start the war or tell people what time it is is usually a man's job. But when they strike the cup, meaning when wars start happening, the women start doing a "man's job." I liked this song because it featured Deborah Sampson (Christine Mayland Perkins), who is one of my relations. Deborah Sampson is a woman who decided that she wanted to dress up as a man and fight in the Revolution. It is good and not good because they didn't get any recognition but they did fight for their country. I felt happy that the women decided to fight for their country even if they didn't get any credit.
There was this scene that took place in a slave market--my least favorite thing to see. It was about a man Solomon Northrup (Abu Ansari) who was going to be sold, and he used to be free, and he wasn't anymore. It was sad because the wife (Genevieve VenJohnson) was telling the story of her husband and what he used to be like and now that he had to be sold she was lonely and sad. She is singing a song about Moses because she wants her husband to be freed by somebody like Moses. The song was very moving because they were both so sad and they missed each other. And when they hugged each other I was so happy that they actually found each other. The singing was great and it made me cry--in a good way. If you are making people cry that means that you are doing a good job because you are making people feel emotions.
There was this song that was about a man named John Henry (Ansari). John Henry worked on the railroad and they said "we don't need you to do your job anymore because we have this new machine that can work even better than you." But, still, he wanted other people to have jobs--because there were other people working on the railroad--and he wanted his job. So, he decided, "I'm going to do a contest with this machine to see who can hammer better." Then he beat the machine, but in that doing he had to sacrifice his life because he wants other people and himself to have a job. And his wife (Perkins) was very sad that he had to die because they had just got married. They actually got a real hammer to hammer with and then you felt like he could have really died from this and I could really feel the ground shaking. And when the music was going on, it made it really sad when John Henry died. They buried him by the railroad track so he could hear all the hard work that he did--the instruments were making all these train noises and beautiful sounds. I thought it was so nice that people still remembered John Henry as a great man, which he was.
One of my favorite instruments that they played was a horse's jaw that Maria McCullough banged on and it made this jittery sound. I would like you to look out for the horse jaw in the show because it is an amazing instrument. It makes me think about hunters and pioneers. Just go up to Maria who is the fiddle player and ask if you can play the horse jaw. She is totally nice so she would let you play it. I thought that all the musicians (Matt Martin, McCullough, Yahvi Pichardo, Kevin O'Donnell and the ensemble) were playing together like a entire family. And actually two of them are family. They are married. And I thought it was awesome that they could be in a show together when they are married.
People who would like this show are people who like music, history, and jumping on top of tables. People should go see this show because it is historical, beautiful, and touching. It makes me feel better about our history.
Photos: Michael Brosilow