An area community theater troupe will examine themes of struggle and change in an upcoming Black History month musical play opening next week.
The St. Mary’s Little Theatre’s production of “Sweetgrass,” by Camden County playwright Gaila Brandon opens Feb. 24 at the Theatre by the Trax, 1000 Osborne St., St. Marys.
“It’s a fictional story that highlights the culture, heritage and ancestral history of the Gullah-Geechee community in a modern-day story,” Brandon said. “It touches on some of the problems they’ve endured in their community with higher taxes and fees imposed, which they struggle to pay.”
The original play is set on Sapelo Island’s Hog Hammock community, one of the last remaining Gullah-Geechee settlements, Brandon said.
The play centers around a young woman who finds her true self after an unexpected journey, Brandon summarized.
“After losing her parents in a tragic accident when she was a teenager, a young woman living in New York inherits her great aunt’s heirs property on Sapelo Island,” Brandon said. “She soon discovers a part of her past that she had long forgotten, and a part of her culture that is embodied in the spirituality of her Gullah-Geechee heritage.
“The play looks at the definition of heirs property, and how other places that were Gullah-Geechee communities were overtaken and developed into resorts and vacation homes. The community in Hog Hammock is rare in that it’s still functioning as a Gullah-Geechee community.”
Brandon, who lives in St. Marys but was born in New Orleans, said she’s written four other plays for the St. Mary’s Little Theatre troupe’s Black History Month celebration.
“Each year, we try to touch on some aspect of history in our area,” Brandon said. “We’ve talked about plantations, and slavery on Cumberland Island, and the onset of the Civil War. We try to give the audience something they may or may not know about, so they can be enjoy the show and be educated in the process.”
Brandon, who is white, said she enjoys writing the Black History Month plays because she hopes to highlight diversity.
“I’m not African-American, but I do have a blended family,” Brandon said. “It’s something I like to celebrate.”
The two-hour play features original music by David Scott Pooler, and select performances Feb. 24 and 25 will include the McIntosh County Shouters, a renown Gullah-Geechee group that recently performed at the opening of the National Museum of African-American History in Washington, D.C. During other performances, the Camden County Shouters will also perform.
The show’s director, Barbara Ryan, said she hopes the show will help audience members understand a nearly lost culture and its storied past.
“As the story unfolds, audiences will witness the transformation of the girl’s life and her discovery of a new sense of place,” said Ryan. “But most important, they will be immersed in a heart-touching experience that connects them to a culture rich in history and grace.”
Ryan said the show’s unique blend of music and performance is aimed at bringing alive the history of the Gullah-Geechee people on Sapelo Island.
“Sweetgrass is a musical, a drama, a comedy and a history lesson all rolled into one,” Ryan said. From the sad parade of 9/11 victims to the soul stirring songs like ‘Soul of a Slave,’ the story will come alive and write its name upon the hearts of every member of the audience.”
“Sweetgrass” will be performed at the Theatre by the Trax at 2 p.m. Feb. 25 and 26, and at 7 p.m. Feb. 24 and 25. Tickets may be purchased in St. Marys at Once Upon a Bookseller, 207 Osborne, St.; On the Green Salon, 2400 St. Marys Rd.; and the Friese Studio of Music, 204 Arnow Drive. Will-call tickets may also be purchased by calling 729-1103. Group rates are available.