The force of unexpurgated truth distinguishes "Do Lord Remember Me" at Theatre/Theater. James de Jongh's docudrama, drawn from recorded interviews with ex-slaves in the 1930s, transcends reader's theater contours through the power of its content.
Originally performed in 1977, "Do Lord Remember Me" stems from oral histories compiled during the Depression by the Federal Writers' Project. Although De Jongh conflates some individuals, his text comes verbatim from the transcribed memories. Using spirituals -- beautifully overseen by musical director Paul Wong -- as unifying motif, "Do Lord Remember Me" may offend the politically correct with its use of the N-word and Southern patois. Yet that's how its subjects spoke, and De Jongh honors their voices.
These recollections unfold against designer James Esposito's backdrop reproduction of the woodcut of a shackled slave that appeared with John Greenleaf Whittier's "Our Countrymen in Chains." It's all here: the auction block, outwitting of white masters, enduring starvation and sexual exploitation, broken families, the Union Army, emancipation.
Whether earning laughs from homespun superstitions or jerking tears with accounts of unthinkable cruelty, the script gives the lie to countless Hollywood stereotypes and rivets the house.
Credit also goes to the wonderfully controlled Chromolume Theatre Company production, which played last fall at the Raven Playhouse.
The cast is superb. Bambadjan Bamba (in for Parnell Damone at the reviewed performance), Rodney J. Hobbs, Shavonda Mitchell and Annzella Victoria trump every challenge handed them, and Arthur Alonzo Richardson goes for the jugular, especially as Nat Turner.
They elucidate and entertain at once, and that, coupled with the undeniable authenticity, makes "Do Lord Remember Me" quietly unforgettable.
'Do Lord Remember Me'
Where: Theatre/Theater, 5041 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles
When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays
Ends: Feb. 25
Contact: (323) 938-3700 or www.chromolume-theatre.com
Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes