‘Wife’ tackles hefty topics

Contributing writerJune 21, 2013 

Samantha Chandler and Keith Eisner star as Mary and John Brown in Olympia Family Theater’s staging of “The Abolitionist’s Wife.”

COURTESY OF SKY MYERS

Each season, Olympia Family Theater likes to present one show aimed at older kids and teens, a show that’s thought-provoking and not necessarily cute.

This year, the regular season didn’t include such a show, but the company is making up for it by filling that gap with “The Abolitionist’s Wife,” a world-premiere production opening tonight.

Written by Barbara Gibson and Sky Myers, the play tackles feminism, freedom and ethics through the life of Mary Day Brown, wife of abolitionist John Brown. The play is intended for adults but is suitable for ages 12 and older.

“There are so many interesting concepts in the play,” said Samantha Chandler, the company’s managing director, who stars as Mary Brown. “It’s material for families to talk about. We have always liked to do those shows for older audiences,” she said. “There definitely are families who missed that in our regular season, and so we’re happy to fit that bill.”

The collaboration with Gibson and Myers, which will be staged in the company’s playspace, gives Olympia Family Theater a chance to produce another world-premiere production with little financial risk.

The play, which covers about 25 years in the lives of the Browns, from before their marriage till after the Civil War, explores Mary Brown’s role in a marriage that was, for the time, untraditional.

The subject – slavery and ending it by violent means, which Mary Brown came to oppose – is very serious, but the playwrights have lightened things up with musical interludes.

“A very vibrant part of this production is the singing and the musical accompaniment that goes with it,” Gibson said. “The songs are all American folk songs and spirituals that have some kind of thematic relevance to the play.”

For example, Brown throws her husband’s rifles into the pond. After that scene, the singers perform “Wade in the Water.”

“The Abolitionist’s Wife” is the first full-scale production for the playspace, which is usually used for rehearsals and short weekday plays.

The space will seat 63 people, Gibson said.

“Because it’s an intimate story about the evolution of a relationship, it’s going to be really cool to do it in this intimate setting and be this close with the audience,” Chandler said.

The Abolitionist’s Wife

What: Olympia Family Theater presents a special production of a new play about Mary Day Brown, the wife of abolitionist John Brown.

When: 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday plus June 28 and 29 and July 5 and 6; 2 p.m. June 30

Where: Olympia Family Theater Playspace, 112 State Ave. NE, Olympia

Tickets: $12 in advance at olyft.org, $15 at the door. For the Sunday, June 23, performance, pay what you can.

More information: 360-570-1638 or olyft.org

Also: The theater company recommends this show for ages 12 and older.

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