CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 6 . . . . November 10, 2005
This one act play is set in 19th- century America and revolves around the relationship of three men, two slaves, and the master of the plantation. Absalom is a slave with certain privileges, including being taught to read and write, and living in the house of his master, Abraham. When we are introduced to Absalom, something has gone wrong, and he is on the run. In the forest, Absalom encounters an aboriginal man from the Anishnabe tribe, Wagoosh, who is on a vision quest. Through the conversation between the two men, Absalom and Wagoosh, the story of why Absalom has run off is revealed.
At the plantation, Absalom's relationship with his brother, Samuel, has dramatically changed since Absalom has been invited into the master's house. Samuel discovers Absalom's secret. He can read. Samuel's jealousy is fueled by Absalom's ability to read, Absalom's privileges in the main house, and anything that Samuel feels presents Absalom as being better than he is. They are both slaves. They are both black men. They are brothers. However, because of Samuel's jealousy, Absalom is falsely accused of stealing, beaten by the Overseer, and fears he will be turned out of Abraham's home forever.
Revealing his story to Wagoosh, Absalom also listens to the aboriginal man's own story of how he has come to his vision quest. Wagoosh has come on his quest for many reasons, with one being to forgive himself for being the reason his brother is dead from alcohol poisoning. Each one of the men is searching for his own answer through brotherly ties.
In another part of the forest, Samuel, the slave, and Abraham, the master, search for Absalom. In the conversation between these two men, each reveals his true feelings about Absalom. Each has his own purpose for finding the runaway slave: one wishes to see his brother punished; one needs to tell his son he has a father.
In a confrontational and violent ending, two men, within the loss of their brothers, find a new brotherhood forming in their relationship with each other.
Within the context of 19th century America, Ross weaves a powerful, emotional, and violent tale of blood ties and torn relationships. The four male characters, each in his own way, offer up their vulnerability and fears in order to try and make sense out of out of their lives and to discover who they are. Juxtaposing the vision quest with the escape of the slave brings a new perspective to the historical context of this time period.
As noted in the beginning "Production Notes," Bereav'd of Light premiered at the Stratford Festival, Stratford, ON, with a cast consisting of two African-American men, one Aboriginal man, and one White man. It would be hard to cast and produce this play in any other way.
As a play study, Bereav'd of Light has much to offer in way of a character analysis with deep and complex relationships offering up a diverse scope of meanings. At the high school level, this play would bridge well with issues brought forth in English classes and Social Studies within this time period, the 19th century, and currently.
Jocelyn A. Dimm is a sessional instructor and doctoral student at the University of Victoria where she teaches drama education and young adult literature in the Faculty of Education.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.