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“The Saga of Henry ‘Box’ Brown”

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Harris, Valerie J. (American playwright, editor, publisher, 1952-____), “The Saga of Henry ‘Box’ Brown,”

an 80-minute experimental historical drama in English in seven scenes, set at an abolitionist lecture, mid-1850s to early 1860s,

4m or 3m1f

; © 1985, 2003 by Valerie J. Harris; • in Valerie J. Harris’ The Saga of Henry “Box” Brown (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.: The Author, 1985, 2003); • script/rights available from Valerie Harris, BPT Media, P.O. Box 28663, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19151, U.S.A., telephone (home) 215-474-6133, e-mail vharris52@aol.com or BPTMedia@aol.com. • Cited by Valerie Harris, via ftp, August 16, 2003; Harris says,

§ Dramatis Personae William Still (m), a free black member of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society; Henry “Box” Brown (m), a celebrated fugitive slave; Samuel Smith (m), a white Virginia storekeeper (with a change of hats and accents this actor may also plays the Host, Man, and Agent of Vigilance Committee); Hands of History (m or f), a 'timeless' character, dressed in black, who helps move the action along.

§ Synopsis “Part 1 opens at a lecture of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society, where The Host is giving an abolitionist speech and raising money and supplies for the Underground Railroad. To encourage audience support, the Host introduces the motivational speaker, Henry ‘Box’ Brown. Subsequent scenes reveal that William Still has been commissioned to write a book of the accounts of runaway slaves, including the details of Brown’s life before, during and after his escape from Virginia to Philadelphia in a wooden box. Going back in time, we see how Brown received the vision to put himself in a box, prepared for his escape, and finally convinced Samuel Smith to ship him to Philadelphia. Part 1 ends with Brown, fearful but determined, beginning his journey enclosed in the box. Part 2 opens with a traveling sequence revealing Brown’s journey inside the box. Upon Brown’s arrival at the office of the Vigilance Committee, William Still is among those who free him from the box; the Hands of History ‘christens’ him Henry ‘Box’ Brown. Subsequently, William Still examines the infamous box, as a man auctions off slaves behind a scrim. Still reveals to the audience the secret of his own mother’s fugitive slave past, and how it threatened his family’s existence as free blacks in pre-emancipation Philadelphia. Finally, a more sophisticated Henry "Box" Brown enters, with the Hands of History carrying his valise. Brown is about to give his ‘own true story’ in a speech to the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society. He speaks of his determination to have freedom ‘in every particular’ and the exciting life he has lead since his escape, including traveling abroad and raising money for the antislavery movement. Still asks Brown to read an addendum to his speech honoring Samuel Smith as a martyr to his cause. Brown declines, stating that he doesn’t read very well. The Hands of History, having turned the box on its end to serve as a podium for Henry, introduces him to the audience. Brown delivers a rousing epilogue to his saga, receiving enthusiastic applause from the Hands of History.

  §  Comment “The drama occurs in 4 scenes in Part 1 and 3 scenes in Part 2. Scenes in Virginia, a slave state, appear behind a large scrim. The stage set is spare, requiring a large Victorian style desk belonging to William Still; a pile of wooden crates, about 3’x4’, including the infamous box, open on one side for audience purposes, and the tall scrim. Some music and Brown’s narration of his journey are recorded. Directors should note that the escape in 1849 of Henry Brown in a box from Virginia to Philadelphia is a true story. The location where he was received the office of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society in Philadelphia is now a neighborhood called Olde City, home to numerous art galleries and lofts, a theater, and historic sites. • This play premiered at the Painted Bride Art Center, Olde City, Philadelphia, in 1985. • In terms of characterizations, it should be noted that William Still, the author of The Underground Railroad published in the late 19th century, was a Victorian gentleman and that class differences existed and separated free blacks and fugitive slaves, regardless of how dedicated free African Americans were to the cause of emancipation. • Still photographs of the original production are online. • The playwright offers this script as a one-act play (without intermission).

  §  Themes abolition, African American theater, American history, biography, black actor, black drama, black dramatist, black history, black history month, black theater, Brown (Henry “Box” Brown, [birth celebrated] March 25] 1815-____), experimental play, female playwright, historical drama, Still (William Still, abolitionist, writer, businessman, 1821-1902), Underground Railroad.

This Website continues under construction and welcomes new citations and comments.

Page mounted August 17, 2003, and updated September 21, October 14, 2003, February 3, 2004, April 27, 2006, by the Webmaster.

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1/2/3/4 for the Show: A Guide to Small-Cast One-Act Plays

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  (Lanham, Maryland, U.S.A.; Folkestone, Kent, U.K.: Scarecrow Press, 1995, 1999)

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