Some of the best stories are based on events that really happened.
A Midnight Cry: The Underground Railroad to Freedom is a historical drama inspired by the true story of a young slave who found freedom through the Underground Railroad. It will be presented by the Cultural Arts Theatre beginning Feb. 22.
DJ Queenan, the City of Savannah’s Theatre Arts Coordinator, is directing. “A Midnight Cry: The Underground Railroad to Freedom is loosely based on the life of Caroline Quarlls, a young slave from St. Louis, Mo., who escaped to freedom via the Underground Railroad,” Queenan says.
In the play, Caroline is called Lida Anderson. “This play is great family fare, but is best viewed by those 10 years of age and older,” Queenan says. “Sadly, this part of America’s history deals with some of the terrible things we have done to one another.”
Queenan says, “I was so fortunate to have just the right mix of actors come out for auditions,” he says.
“Brandyn Poole plays Lida Anderson, the main character,” Queenan says. “Brandyn breathes such passionate life into Lida that the plays takes flight the very moment she utters her first words.
“Faith Boles, who plays Lida’s mother, brings a fiery strength and heart that bears the grief so many broken slave families had to endure,” Queenan says.
“The biggest challenge I faced with this show was truthfulness,” he says. “Could I, a middle-aged white guy from New Jersey, have the insight to see into the heart of this brave family? After you see it, please tell me if I have accomplished my goal,” Queenan says.
Midnight Cry is certainly a departure from recent offerings from Cultural Affairs Theatre. “This production of A Midnight Cry has a truly organic feel,” Queenan says.
“Our last few productions have been much more fantastical. This play plants its feet firmly on the ground,” Queenan says. “This play helps remind us where we’ve been. This play tells where we must never go again.”
The play is being presented in conjunction with the 19th annual Savannah Black Heritage Festival. It was written by National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship recipient James DeVita.
As Mama, Boles plays the caretaker of her family. She loves her daughters and is heartbroken when Lida decides to escape.
“This is a flashback show,” Boles says. “It’s the story of the slaves and their struggles at that time. I think if you want to watch a play that is a unique experience, something you will laugh at, something that will entertain you, come see this show,” Boles says.
Poole also read the play when she learned about it. “I couldn’t put it down,” she says. “I fell in love with all the characters.”
Ryan McCurdy is the musical director for the production. “The show uses several spirituals,” he says. “The play is filled with music and it is so much a part of their lives.Every production of this show has readapted the spirituals. We’ve found some new ways to present the songs.”
A Midnight Cry: The Underground Railroad to Freedom will be presented Feb. 22, 29 and Mar. 1 at 8 p.m.; Feb. 24 at 3 and 8 p.m; and Mar. 2 at 3 p.m. at the Black Box at S.P.A.C.E., 9 W. Henry St. Tickets are $10 general admission and $7 seniors and students. Call 651-6783.
Brandyn Poole, who plays Lida Anderson, is just 17 years old and attends the Savannah Arts Academy. She plans to attend college and study musical theater.
James DeVita is a playwright and actor originally from Long Island, N.Y. who has written plays about subjects as diverse as Joan of Arc and Bambi.
The Underground Railroad:
It wasn’t a train but a vast network of people who helped fugitive slaves escape to the North and to Canada, and who knew only of the local efforts to aid fugitives, not of the overall operation.