Last week I was fortunate to see the amazing play "The Trials of Sam Houston" by Aaron Loeb in its world premiere at the Kalita Humphreys Theatre in Dallas. The play was still in previews when I saw it, and since it's considered bad taste to review plays before they've officially premiered (because the actors are still finding their marks), I waited to blog about it. But now I can say with absolute certainty, as someone who lived and breathed theatre in the New York City area for about a decade, this play is phenomenal. It's everything Robert Schenkkan's "The Great Society" should have been but wasn't. It has great story-telling, great directing, great everything.
Director Kevin Moriarty displayed PURE GENIUS in his cross-racial and cross-gender casting. The story centers around Sam Houston, the American soldier and politician who secured the independence of Texas from Mexico at the Battle of San Jacinto, and his refusal in 1861 to recognize the legality of Texas's vote to secede from the United States and join the Confederacy. The narrative is dramatized through the relationship between Houston and his slave, Jeff Hamilton. (When Houston freed his slaves in 1862, Hamilton remained with the family.) The play offers flashbacks to various times in Houston's life as he struggles with the decision to accept or refuse the legality of Texas's vote. While Houston made the honorable decision of rejecting the legality of the vote, the story is deeply about African-Americans' rights and the production was wonderfully modern in giving African-Americans the leading roles they deserve in this story, specifically, in having African-American actor Charlie Robinson portray both Old Jeff Hamilton and Old Sam Houston, as well as African-American actress Liz Mikel portray both African-American Lina Graves and the definitely not African-American (and definitely not female) John Quincy Adams. Caucasian actor Steven Michael Walters played Young Sam Houston, when Houston struggled with alcohol. (He is also famous for beating another member of Congress with a cane, an incident also shown in the play, along with the consequences.) All actors in the production were excellent, but especially the three mentioned above as well as Kate Wetherhead in the role of the journalist Patricia Caras who has come to interview an aging Jeff Hamilton.
This is a must-see play that deserves to make it to Off-Broadway (in the same casting) and hopefully to Broadway. But the residents of Dallas will have seen it first. Buy tickets here.