Philadelphia Inquirer Review: Arden’s ‘My General Tubman’ will charm you with history, bloodshed, heroism, love — and magic

This review appeared in Philadelphia Inquirer, written by John Timpane, 1/23/20. Click on the link below to access the original review.

There is a lot to be excited about in Lorene Cary’s My General Tubman, now at the Arden Theatre Company. Advance chatter has been electric. And at Wednesday’s official opening, producing artistic director Terrence J. Nolen announced that the production already has been extended through March 8. There’s a lot that’s entertaining and worth seeing. You have history, bloodshed, heroism, love, and magic. You will frequently be charmed, as Wednesday night’s audience was, by a succession of surreal, moving scenes. The crowd murmured as local places were name-checked for their roles in Harriet Tubman’s Underground Railroad exploits.

But My General Tubman has a little too much going on. A good first act leads to a second act that loses momentum and focus. This hot property will continue to develop, find about 10 to 20 minutes it can profitably lose, and emerge even warmer. Go, though. You have Tubman surging in popular culture, with several recent biographies, the film Harriet, and a sadly sidetracked campaign to get her on the $20 bill. You have as playwright the divine Lorene, one of Philly’s finest writers, a master of wise, poignant one-liners (“Staying alive isn’t as important as living right”). You have James Ijames, another of Philly’s finest, as director.

And you have Danielle Leneé, poised, stalwart, and visionary in the title role. She tells the men she leads, “A black woman gave you birth, and a black woman will steer you through time with love.”

In a sweeping overlay of fantasy and reality, Cary takes us from the Civil War to abolitionist Massachusetts to Canada to the 2020 Philadelphia penal system. Aaron Bell is a sprightly, Ariel-like Chorus (he reminds us, “Hey, it’s a play!”), and Brandon Pierce is Nelson Davis, Tubman’s worshipper through time and space.