Theatre Students Take Trip to See “Possessing Harriet”


Composite image by author.

Angelique Izquierdo, Science and Tech Editor

Possessing Harriet, a play recently performed at the Syracuse Stage, was written by Kyle Bass, an associate director of that theatre.  This reporter and a small group of IRHS theatre students took a field trip to see a performance.

Possessing Harriet is an inspirational story, based on true events, about young Harriet Powell, a mixed African American enslaved girl trying to escape. It is set solely in the house of Gerrit Smith – an abolitionist and she was more so in the company of his cousin Elizabeth Cady in a room of the house throughout the play.

The play unwinds a small yet intricate part of a special evening when Harriet decided to embark on her solo journey to Canada for her freedom. She’s seen being in the company of a ‘man servant’ of the house known as Thomas Leonard at the beginning who tries to make her feel comfortable and welcome in this strange environment she’d been thrown into. At this point her ‘master’ knew she was gone and set a reward for her and whoever was found with her would pay severe consequences, but if she was found and brought back to him would receive a reward of around two thousand dollars (in today’s terms).

As the performance goes on the audience knows that it was the intent of the author to focus on the evening rather than the events before she arrived to Mr. Smith’s house or when taking her journey. He unraveled characteristics of each person with that time, and even a bit of their back story was able to be heard; to understand each character almost on each of their own emotional levels was reached. Harriet was the focus of the play for obvious reasons, but each character felt just as necessary and important as the rest.

Talking the technical side of the performance the lighting, music, and stage design was absolutely stunning and well done. The stage set was historically accurate according to the time period, and the music would be drawn in at the right moment of things. As for lighting specifically there was this window as a part of the room layout toward the back of the set; you could see the shift from day to night including a sunset shining progressively through the play.

Overall the play itself was extremely well written, set, staged, and performed. While also being incredibly powerful and even a bit emotional there was still little glimmer of happiness and even comedic aspects intertwined in perfect amounts. My kudos to everyone involved with the production.