Storytelling at its best.
THE THIRD CROSSING was at once funny, angering, confounding, inspirational and frightening. Thank you.
I was angry, inspired, moved and educated. In other words: a great play.
Debora Threedy’s THE THIRD CROSSING is a thought-provoking work that probes the nature of human relations against the backdrop of the inhumanity of the institution of slavery. It employs the enigmatic life and legacy of Sally Hemings, a slave woman owned by President Thomas Jefferson, as an invitation to the viewer to interrogate relationships, race, color and racism. Threedy captures the complexity of crossing the color line and intermixing where the condition of unfreedom constrains choices, yet opens possibilities for Sally and her mixed-race descendants – the children she bore for Jefferson. As the play alternates between the past and various points of forward progress for race relations and mixed-race relationships, it introduces other interconnections and lays bare the harm bias inflicts on humanity and the hope love can provide.
The characters, all based on individuals who lived the experiences shared in the play, are extraordinarily compelling. However, the best role is perhaps the one played by the law – and legal institutions – in constructing America’s identity and the scenes in which the characters find themselves. Starting with the story of a slave woman who remains enigmatic because she was all but deliberately erased from history, THE THIRD CROSSING is not only about facing our history, it is about facing ourselves to see the biases we may hold but be blind to with respect to race and relationships more generally. THE THIRD CROSSING is an interesting
and important work that invites further questioning . . .
Professor of Law, University of Utah
I find it hard to organize my thoughts on THE THIRD CROSSING. Not ten minutes into the production, tears were streaming silently from my eyes. Once during the play, while they sang “Monticellian Sally,” I was fighting sobs. Later in the play, when one couple could finally build a home after a lifetime together, there were tears of happiness.
As a woman who has faced oppression, I identified in the smallest way with Sally Hemings and some of the painful indignities she faced. Among other things, I was enraged at the ludicrous concept that this woman’s common law husband legally owned her. As a white American, I felt intense shame that slavery was at one time a way of life here, and that the oppressors were also generally white. As a human being I felt indignation that any one group of people would set themselves above another for any reason, be it religion, skin color, nationality, money, political beliefs, gender or orientation. I felt such pride for those in these historic stories told, who fought against unjust laws and loved despite great hatred. THE THIRD CROSSING was almost always subtle and never sensational. It felt like it came from an honest, real place. The multilayered themes of family, slavery, abuse, women’s rights, civil rights, personal privacy and life in a patriarchal society were woven, seemingly effortlessly, from the threads of our own American history. Despite the difficult topics, this play left me with hope, with a will root out any undiscovered prejudices in myself. And, because similar injustices still exist today, it also left me with a desire to do more to change the world we live in for the better.
THE THIRD CROSSING is that rare bird of a production that actually earns the accolade, “Brilliant!” Debora Threedy’s play weaves back and forth between the miscegeny laws in the 20th century that kept blacks from marrying whites to the slavery laws in the 18th century that kept Thomas Jefferson from recognizing his only sons to the present. Threedy’s words and Kalyn West’s remarkable portrayal of Sally Hemings, Jefferson’s slave and mother of his five children, helped me to understand why Hemings might have stayed with Jefferson as a slave instead of remaining in Paris as a free woman. I also felt some sympathy for Jefferson, who was torn between loving Sally and allegiance to the laws, values, and economic exigencies of the South. Every character played was believable. Every word, every action seemed plausible. I left the theatre, for the first time putting Sally Hemings on my list of the 10 people in history I would want to have dinner with.
THE THIRD CROSSING is a fabulous play that deals with the story of Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson, along with a historical overview of the changes in race relations since that time. The script strikes a nice balance between drama and actual legal facts.
More than halfway through the play THE THIRD CROSSING, I found myself crying during the retelling of the Mildred and Richard Loving story as played by the incredible Dee-Dee Darby-Duffin and David Fetzer. The Lovings loved each other; they chose each other, such a sweet contrast from the complicated story envisioned by Debora Threedy of Tom Jefferson and Sally Hemings. The play was magnificent, made up of vignettes of the immediate Hemings/Jefferson family, interspersed with brief notes on other relationships of black/white couples and the complicated racial threads in America’s legal and emotional history.
I couldn’t help but think of the outrage I hope this country will feel now about the unfairness of existing same-sex marriage laws, just as I did about the insanity of mixed-race marriage laws in our not-so-recent past. Kalyn West portrays the enigma of Sally Hemings tenderly; her losses as a mother, as a lover, her lack of ability to be authentic in the culture. Carleton Bluford is charming and compelling in his various roles. Deena Marie Manzanares is strong and compelling as an outraged Patsy Jefferson and a warm wife and mother. Bob Nelson as Jefferson presented the strange rationalizations of White America in his love for, yet need for control of, Sally. I wanted to stay after to hug each actor; it was an emotionally touching play as well as an intellectually questioning exercise.
A lot of art deals with race relations and issues from which we could draw a parallel to the struggles of other currently disenfranchised groups, perhaps most notably the GLBT community (although it [sadly] would be extraordinarily easy to make a case for women at large these days). There’s no shortage of pieces like this, and it’s a bell-curve of quality.
Thanks to good direction and some very strong performances THE THIRD CROSSING lives on the better half of that curve. It handles the obvious issues well, but more interesting for me was the issue of miscegenation – which appears in a lot of pieces like this, but rarely takes center stage as it does so here.
I am an ethnic mutt who is woefully and wonderfully American: 50% Persian from my father, who came to the U.S. from Iran at 18; 25% Japanese + 25% various European from my mother who came here from Okinawa at 8. I am a first generation American born and raised in Utah, which while not exactly renowned for its ethnic diversity is getting better (the ethnic population has nearly doubled in the last 10 years – though we’re still far below the national average, which tells you how homogenous things were growing up). I am frequently ostracized for not speaking either native tongue, though I am working on it. Because I do not speak the language, I do not get to truly belong to either of those communities. And yet, for being as a part of them as I am, I’m kept separate from full integration into my American one too. I belong neither here nor there.
I am neither black or white, but something between.
Send a thief into a town and he’ll find the thieves, a liar and he’ll find the liars, an honest man and he’ll find the honest men. I, mutt that I am, saw what I wanted to see in this piece – something beyond the obvious message. I saw a brief acknowledgment for those of us who are neither this nor that. I don’t think America has made it to her own “third crossing” yet, that place where false perception stops and truly inconsequential things are seen as just that. But, more importantly, I was reminded of how much beauty exists in the first two crossings, whether or not anyone else sees it yet.