On Sunday, Oct 30th, The Playhouse San Antonio will be hosting the latest installment in our Playhouse Potentials series. These readings are intended to give an audience to locally written or lesser-known plays that deserve attention for their quality, their timely topics or their worthy subject matter. This time, we're presenting a reading of Deborah: The Mostly True Tale of a Revolutionary Woman by Houston-based playwright, Elizabeth A.M. Keel.
Deborah Sampson Gannett (December 17, 1760 – April 29, 1827), better known as Deborah Sampson or Deborah Samson, was a woman who disguised herself as a man in order to serve in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. She is one of a small number of women with a documented record of military combat experience in that war. She served 17 months in the army under the name "Robert Shirtliffe" of Uxbridge, Massachusetts, was wounded in 1782, and was honorably discharged at West Point, New York, in 1783.
The playwright, Elizabeth A.M. Keel, first encountered her story in a history class in high school and was shocked to have never heard of her before.
This was a play I absolutely had to write. Deborah Sampson is easily on par with her friend Paul Revere or the Founding Fathers for her amazing accomplishments: a successful soldier in disguise, and an elite sniper at that, but also a teacher, mother, wife, weaver, entrepreneur, and writer, as well as the first solo female public speaker to travel the U.S. I think most women living and working today will see themselves in her.
In 2013, I flew to Massachusetts for research: to walk in Deborah's woods, visit her grave, see where her home still stands, and so forth. The arc of her life was spectacular. The only trouble was that given her intense, necessary silence during her months of manhood, I felt that she needed someone to confide in onstage. For that, I reached one generation further back, to the English sailor Hannah Snell, who also transformed herself into a male sailor. During Deborah's lifetime, Hannah's adventures were a bestselling chapbook, and very well might have given her the idea to join the Continental Army in the first place. My imaginary Hannah serves as both Deborah's confidante and mentor throughout the play.
The themes of gender, rebellion, and belonging repeat themselves throughout her life, and I remain completely inspired by her. More than anything, I hope the audience walks away ready to share Deborah's story with everyone they know. - Elizabeth A.M. Keel
From the play:
DEBORAH: When you are a soldier, it is somehow always dawn, or about to be dawn. Everything is saturated with a sensation of imminence. It’s coming, it’s coming, be ready, engage. We crouched there, just off the river bank, watching the Brits sneak through the lines, closer and closer. And I thought, my God. Some woman carried that man inside her for nine months. She fed him, raised him, taught him English and Scripture. He came into the prime of his life, rode a boat across the ocean, and came here, to this wood, on this day, to die. Or to kill me!
Just like we practiced: Bite the cartridge, prime the pan, load the muzzle, ram rod in, put it back, cock and fire. Bite the cartridge, prime the pan, load the muzzle, ram rod in, put it back, cock and fire. Bite the cartridge, prime the pan, load the muzzle, ram rod in, put it back, cock and fire. The gun gets hot, there’s smoke and screams, and sprays of something wet and still, bite the cartridge, prime the pan, load the muzzle, ram rod in, put it back, cock and fire. Four times a minute, gun’s too hot, three times a minute, what the devil does time mean anyway, because, Duck! Aim! Fire! however long, until it’s quiet.
Playhouse Potentials is managed and the plays chosen by our COO | Associate Artistic Director, Meredith Alvarez. Out of the great number of scripts she received, this one leaped out at her because of its grit and realness as well as because of the weight of its historical worth.
Deborah Sampson is one of the very few female veterans of the Revolutionary War. Keel's historically accurate script comes to life through Deborah's relationships and we are lucky to spend the evening hearing the story of a woman whose bravery, determination, and sacrifice inspire others.
It's almost shocking to me that Sampson's story isn't more widely known, especially in today's society where the Revolutionary War and Hamilton seem to rule. I am honored to bring Keel's powerful script to Potentials, where I hope that 'Deborah' can find the recognition her story so justly deserves.
The staged reading of Deborah: The Mostly True Tale of a Revolutionary Woman will take place at 6pm on Sunday, Oct 30 in The Cellar Theater of The Playhouse San Antonio. Although this is a free event AND because the last reading, Community Hearts, was a solidly-packed affair, we strongly recommend that you reserve seats through our online system - HERE!
The cast consists of Nikki Travis Wuertz, Eva LaPorte, Shelby Blocker, Greg Cote, Cameron Dunbar, and Benjamin McLaughlin. Stage directions will be read by the playwright, Elizabeth Keel.