So, what’s former Spreckels Performing Arts Center Manager Gene Abravaya been doing since his retirement to the Arizona desert?
“Well”, he told me in a recent interview, “I’ve been enjoying my retirement and developing style and techniques for the abstract sculptures I am interested in designing.” “Oh”, he added, “and I’ve been working on a new play.” That play, The Trial of John Brown, will have a one-time staged reading at the Spreckels Performing Arts Center in Rohnert Park this Saturday, August 25th.
In 1859, John Brown, an ardent abolitionist and a fanatically religious man, led his followers into Harpers Ferry, Virginia. His objective: confiscate weapons from a rifle factory and an Armory, then sweep across the Southern United States, setting free every black slave he encountered. He was met with heavy resistance. After a three-day battle, during which all but five of his men were killed, Brown was finally captured. The trial that followed brought the issue of slavery to the attention of the nation and the entire world.
What piqued Abravaya’s interest in this moment in American history?
Abravaya told me that he’s “always been fascinated with it ever since seeing Raymond Massey’s portrayal in a 1940 Errol Flynn film called Santa Fe Trail”. Although he felt that the character was somewhat distorted and superficial, there was much about John Brown’s personality that rang true to him and he was captivated after reading more about the actual raid and the trial that followed.
Abravaya is bringing it to Spreckels from Arizona for practical reasons – his previous connection to the facility plus the quality of talent he knew he could find in the North Bay. Abravaya said that he “wanted actors who were talented enough to make the written words come to life”. He knew he would find the people he needed up here to give life to the play and to help him see what legitimately works in the play and what still needs work.
Spreckels Theatre Manager Sheri Lee Miller is excited for the opportunity to offer North Bay patrons the first look at Abravaya’s script and will be participating in the reading. “Since Gene had been so much a part of Spreckels for many years,” said Miller, “it was only natural he should give us the first shot at sharing the script publicly.” Miller said that when she read the script, she found herself in the very uncommon position of having no suggestions on how it might be improved. She thinks it’s a tight script with a clear narrative. “I didn’t know much at all about John Brown,” she said, “so it was great to learn something historic through a play.”
Cast members will include Heather Buck, ScharyPearl Fugitt, Chris Ginesi, Mary Gannon Graham, Nate Mercier, Sean O’Brien, Dixon Phillips, Michael Ross, Chris Schloemp, Tim Setzer, William Thompson, Zane Walters, and Sarah Wintermeyer.
The project, Abravaya says, is more than about just writing a play. “I want to illustrate that the injustices of the past, no matter how much we try to deny them, are still with us, influencing the course of our lives”, said Abravaya, “If I manage to agitate someone enough to become an agitator or an activist, I will have succeeded and maybe have contributed something of value to what might be the most important issue of our time.”
‘The Trial of John Brown’ will be performed at a staged reading on Saturday, August 25 at 7:30pm at Spreckels Performing Arts Center in Rohnert Park. Admission is free, but the seating is limited.