Review: ‘Top Eye Open’ at Hibernian Hall

Kinson Theodoris (right) portraying Shadrach Minkins and Montez Cardwell (left) portraying Leonard Grimes. Photo courtesy Alban Maino.
Written by BU News Service

By Bree Stephen
BU News Service

As Boston is a city known to be rich in America’s history, it’s only appropriate that Hibernian Hall hosts “Top Eye Open,” an original play written by Dillon Bustin featuring songs and set in the time of the revised Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. The play tells the story of Shadrach (Kinson Theodoris), a fugitive slave from Virginia. 

“Top Eye Open” engages the audience in an intimate way with the traditional center stage, but has two additional, smaller sets on each side of the stage, close to the bleachers where the audience is seated. The set includes two wooden benches with a view of the Frog Pond, dimly lit by street lamps. Throughout the play, characters occasionally break the fourth wall and sing or deliver lines to the audience, adding to the intimacy of the staging.

The revision of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850 appeased the Southern states when they threatened to secede from the Union. The revision of the Act was a result of Northern states relaxed enforcement of the first provision of the law. Despite the revision, Massachusetts was still lenient in their enforcement of the law. This is showcased in scenes with the Federal Marshall stationed in Boston, Charles Devens, played by Mark Borbeau.

Because of the setting, connecting with Shadrach and the characters of the time is made familiar through the lens of a Boston native. Whether born and raised in Boston, or a newcomer to the city, you will recognize places like Boston Common, Beacon Hill, and others as they are transformed into smaller settings, but still maintain the hustle and bustle of city life we know today.

Bustin wanted to bring Shadrach’s story to life because he is a figure whose story is not as well known as Solomon Northrup, whose autobiography got the Hollywood treatment in “12 Years A Slave”. In addition to Shadrach, the play features the story of the first Black female novelist, Hattie Wilson (maiden name Adams). The play introduces a young Harriet Wilson at the beginning of her stay in Boston and at the early stages of her career.  

Musical selections  like “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny” by E.P. Christy, “Nelly Bly” by Stephen Foster, and “Jump Jim Crow” by Daddy Rice add an emotional heavyweight as Shadrach interacts with John Capehart, the bounty hunter played by Brian Savage.    

You can see “Top Eye Open” Nov. 17 through Nov. 19 at Hibernian Hall in Roxbury. General admission is $25 and senior and student discount tickets are $15. All shows start at 7:30 p.m.

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