TOM, a world premiere stage adaptation of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, is now performing at the Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum in Topanga. The adaptation was written by the theater’s artistic director, Ellen Geer.
In Stowe’s story, which was first released as a series in a newspaper in 1851 and later became a novel, the main protagonist, Uncle Tom, is a slave whose life is ruled by increasingly evil masters. His faith is tested to the limit and yet he never abandons his Christian principles.
The term “Uncle Tom” is often used nowadays as an insult for an African-American individual who doesn’t stand against racism, or who is perceived as wanting to please “the white man.” But Geer wants to present the Uncle Tom that she feels Stowe actually wrote into her novel. The Uncle Tom who, says David Reynolds, professor at the CUNY Graduate Center, “is distant from the cringing sycophant or spineless sell-out that the epithet “Uncle Tom” signifies today. That misleading image arose later on, during the Jim Crow era, when Uncle Tom was inaccurately portrayed on stage as an obedient old fool. In the novel, Tom is gentle but also self-reliant and strong.” (Reynolds is also the author of Mightier than the Sword: Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the Battle for America.)
Geer sets her adaptation in 1886 and incorporates Stowe into the play. Stowe appears on stage narrating her novel just as she attempts to re-write it to perfection. The story comes to life vividly, some parts offensive to modern sensitivities as families are forcibly separated, humans are auctioned at a price, men are tortured, and other horrors suffered during slavery are portrayed on stage.
Gerald C. Rivers is Tom, Melora Marshall is Harriet Beecher Stowe, and they are accompanied by a cast of over 30 actors. The production also features folk music of the period.
The subject matter here is quite serious, but also important. In its day, Uncle Tom’s Cabin was very popular, and it was key to the growth of the anti-slavery sentiment that in part took the country into the Civil War. “I want people to know that this book changed forever how Americans viewed slavery,” says Geer. “I hope this play sheds new light on Stowe’s characters and message.”
TOM will perform through October 1, 2016. Tickets range from $10 to $39. The play is just under 3-hours long, including a 15-minute intermission.
The Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum is located at 1419 North Topanga Canyon Blvd, in Topanga. For information and to purchase tickets visit Theatricum.com.