She is more than her narrative.
A play highlighting Harriet Tubman’s final days opens at Crossroads Theatre in New Brunswick, New Jersey on Feb. 16. “Beyond the Oak Trees” is a play about the freedom fighter’s last journey on the Underground Railroad and her life in the elder home that she founded. But Tubman did more than just free slaves, and as one of the many important figures in black history only one aspect of her life is usually focused on instead of her entire story, said the show’s playwright.
“I like to explore more of the story and discover what shaped and made her who she was,” said Kisha Bundridge,” who wrote the play. “ ‘Beyond the Oak Trees’ is speaking to that — we learn beyond the story of what we already know, and beyond surface of her freeing slaves.”
The 90 minute play has no intermissions and is set in Maryland and New York. The story follows three actors — one woman and two men — playing six characters in the past and present time. It begins in the modern time with young adults visiting the Harriet Tubman Home in Auburn, New York. Then characters switch into Harriet Tubman and two men she trekked with on her final journey in the forests of Maryland. The story goes switches in between the two time periods and revisits glimpses into the heroine’s life.
Bundridge says history mostly knows of Tubman as the founder of the Underground Railroad, but she held other titles and identities not often spoken of, she said. Learning more about Tubman over the years and in her research, inspired her to write “Beyond the Oak Trees” to show a different side of Tubman.
“My whole life I always knew about Tubman and then I learned more about Tubman,” she said. “You can say her name and people immediately think of the Underground Railroad, but she was also a spy, was married twice, and she was a nurse. She’s one of our heroes, and you might think you know about her, but you don’t.”
It was also important to familiarize people with Tubman’s other beliefs, such as her faith.
“I haven’t seen anything that talks about her spirituality, and it was something very important to her and her vision,” said Bundridge. “She was a spiritual person and a woman, and it speaks to her relationships with her surroundings. Doing what she did at that time is unimaginable and imagining what she was going through.”
The play’s director said he liked that her faith was highlighted in the story because it was a source of Tubman’s strength and what allowed her to free enslaved people.
“She was extremely spiritual. She thought God was speaking to her and that’s what allowed her to go back 18 more times to bring people to freedom,” said Marshall Jones, play director.
With Tubman’s name a recent topic of discussion surrounding her future placement on the 20 dollar bill, Bundridge said that now more than ever, people need to be more celebratory of their heroes because not everyone was on board.
“Some people had the nerve to say she is not worthy to be on the bill for no other reason being that she’s not a white man,” she said. “But it shows how easy it is for some people to be dismissive — we really need to make sure we don’t accept that.”
“Beyond the Oak Trees” at Crossroads Theatre [7 Livingston Ave. between George and New streets in New Brunswick, New Jersey]. Wed–Sun. Feb. 16–18 at 8 pm, Feb. 19 at 3 pm, Feb. 22 at 10 am, Feb. 23–24 at 8 pm, Feb. 25 at 3 pm and 8 pm, and Feb. 26 at 3 pm. $25–55.