Teacher Stuart and Teacher Caroline are putting together a fun game to educate their middle school students about slavery. The audience in the Traverse Theatre are the class and we sit and squirm in our seats as the tw0 creators and performers (Jennifer Kidwell and Scott R Sheppard) are all smiles and glee as they tell us about the Underground Railroad Game. The show is set in Hanover, Pennsylvania, (less than 15 miles to Gettysburg) and is a stop off point in the Underground Railroad (a network of safehouses for African American slaves to flee to Canada). During the show the teachers re-enact historical scenes with an over the top exuberance and try to make history fun.
Throughout the performance the tone and location switches back and forth. At times we are in the classroom, learning how we can score points in the game and on another occasion we see Teacher Stuart and Teacher Caroline on a date and trading inappropriate language. We see the public persona of the teachers and also their complicated private lives. The performance is at times shocking. Teacher Stuart and Teacher Caroline are literally laid bare on the stage and made to feel venerable and exposed. The show constantly pushes boundaries and the audience is at times open-mouthed whilst the legacy of the civil war exposes feelings of guilt, prejudice, anger and heartache.
A lot is packed into one hour and fifteen minutes – possibly too much. The pace of the show barely gives the audience time to digest what is happening on the stage. Underground Railroad Game is brilliantly directed by Taibi Magar, as the themes and ideas are presented with imagination and intensity. It is a shocking, funny and exposing performance that asks questions about race, history and legacy and doesn’t hold back when addressing these issues.