New Play Jefferson’s Garden and the Complex Beginnings of America
In January 2018, Ford’s presents the American premiere of Jefferson’s Garden, a new play by Timberlake Wertenbaker that is set during the American Revolution. The production is part of the city-wide Women’s Voices Theater Festival, which highlights the scope of plays written by women.
Actress Felicia Curry, who you’d recognize from former productions of A Christmas Carol, Ragtime and The 25th Annual Spelling Bee, will play Susannah—an enslaved woman who is tempted to fight for the British when they promise her liberty. Felicia recently spoke with us about stepping into the pages of revolutionary history.
How did you get involved with this production?
Curry: I was called in to audition for the part of Susannah. After reading the script, I was immediately intrigued by the character and am now excited to bring her to life. After eight years of performing at Ford’s Theatre, I am thrilled to be in my first winter play and in Timberlake Wertenbaker’s all too timely and relevant piece. I have had the pleasure of both seeing [director] Nataki Garrett’s work and being in the room working with her—I saw the original production of An Octoroon at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company and played Grace in the remount this summer. Nataki is an incredible artist and collaborator.
What elements of Susannah’s character do you hope to showcase in your portrayal?
Curry: She is fearless; she is educated; she is a revolutionary. She is ready and willing to put herself in danger and to fight for what is right, and in the midst of all that, she’s willing to open her heart despite what the world continues to tell her about who she is and what she is worth. I hope to show that when we, as women, utilize our hearts and allow ourselves to be vulnerable, it does not make us weak. As Susannah demonstrates, it is the source of our true, most honest strength. This strength has the power to educate those around us and, ultimately, make the world a better place.
Since this is a new play, what do you want audiences to know before they come to see Jefferson’s Garden?
Curry: In addition to the information you get about the beginnings of this young country, we get see this journey through the lives of people who were there. We get to experience not just the things we read about in the history books, but also the relationships that fueled the people involved. We get insight into how they maneuvered through those relationships given the circumstances of the times.
Do you feel that the story may resonate in a particular way within the context of our current American life?
Curry: At the heart of Jefferson’s Garden, for all characters, is the desperate struggle for freedom and the question of, what am I willing to do to ensure that freedom? While this country has made great strides, there are obviously still many areas desperately in need of improvement to achieve equal treatment. I hope this play begins a dialogue between us about how we, as Americans, can continue to support each other in the pursuit of life, liberty and justice for all.
How might Jefferson’s Garden translate in the context of playing at Ford’s Theatre?
Curry: This story takes us back to the decisions and tradeoffs that were made by its founding fathers between the strength of the union and equality of its citizens. These decisions set in motion our inevitable path to the Civil War and Lincoln’s unwavering resolve to ensure equality of opportunity for all citizens.
How does performing a role on stage at Ford’s Theatre add to the experience?
Anyone who has come to Ford’s Theatre knows there is an incredible feeling that comes over you knowing you are in the room where it happened. That is amplified as an actor on the stage. It is an honor and a privilege to be able to perform on this stage with its rich theatrical history, and to look at the box where Lincoln sat that fateful night. In this play, Susannah is fighting for freedom, and I am grateful to be on this stage, telling her story. I will carry that truth with me in every performance.
Jefferson’s Garden is part of the Women’s Voices Theater Festival. Why is important to showcase the writing and work of women in theatre at large?
Curry: The Women’s Voices Theater Festival provides female playwrights, directors and actors with the opportunity to truthfully tell our stories and experiences in our own voice and through a female lens. As women, especially as women of color, this festival gives us a vital chance to expose the young women of our audience to theatre that includes identifiable stories and role models both on and off stage.
A version of this interview appears in the Ford’s Theatre playbill for A Christmas Carol.
Lauren Beyea is Associate Director of Communications and Marketing at Ford’s Theatre, where she oversees media relations. She is editor of the Ford’s Theatre Blog. Follow her on Twitter @LaurenBeyea.