New Rep’s historical moving play celebrates Black Civil War hero from Watertown
New Repertory Theatre will present a series of socially-distanced, outdoor historical plays this fall in collaboration with Watertown Free Public Library and the Historical Society of Watertown. Running Sept. 26–Nov. 8, these plays, presented in a walking format with safety precautions in place, will highlight historical figures from the Watertown area, beginning with Black Civil War hero Charles W. Lenox.
The Charles W. Lenox experience is the result of a talented group of Black artists: playwright Ken Green, director Michael Ofori and actor Kadahj Bennett playing the role of Lenox. Born in Watertown in 1824, Lenox was part of the famed 54th Regiment, the first all-volunteer Black regiment in the Union Army during the Civil War. His family ran a successful local barbershop in town and were considered integral and well-known members of the community.
Green, who is originally from Chicago, says it has been an interesting challenge researching the local history. “I’ve never really delved this deep into this period of time or this kind of person before, so everything is new and surprising,” he says. “There’s not a lot of narrative family history about him, so you have to try it piece some of it together.”
The walking format of the production also presented some challenges for Green. With the help of New Repertory Theatre he was able to sketch out a route of historical sites that were both accessible and related to Lenox’s life. Audience members will see the site of Lenox’s family barbershop (now the Armenian Museum of America) and the Civil War monument in Saltonstall Park. Lenox is also buried in town, although that site isn’t visited during the show.
“The story of Charles Lenox is the quintessential American story,” says director Ofori. “It is a story of patriotism, bravery, doubt, betrayal, introspection, a quest for honor. That these issues are explored through the lens of a Black man at the site of his revered life during a tumultuous time in American history can be instructive for our own lives now.”
In his research, Green also found connections to our current societal climate. During the original dedication of the Civil War memorial, a reverend gave a speech warning townspeople to watch out for immigrants and outsiders. “I have the character reacting to it using terminology today that people might pick up on,” says Green.
If audience members can both enjoy the performance and understand these correlations, Green will feel the show has been a success. He says, “If they can walk away thinking this wasn’t just history, it’s still relevant today, that would be great.”