Jerusalem plunges into the cruelties and excesses of slavery as experienced by Nat Turner, through a veil of prophecy and mysticism. Using American oral history, African American work songs and spirituals, the "true confession" of Nat Turner's uprising published in 1831 and newspaper clippings from the mid-1800s, Hand2Mouth translates incendiary, thought-provoking subject manner into a breathtaking account using acrobatics, stilt-walking, pyrotechnics, and a cappella song, all leading to the finale of a doomed slave uprising.

Director: Jonathan Walters

Choreographer: Paige McKinney (2002), Chandra Curtis (2003)

Original Sound Composition: Seth Nehil

Songs adapted & led by: Timeca Briggs (2002)

Set Designer: Sara Thompson

Wire Puppet Designer: Richard Herman

Mask and Props Designer: Bill Holznagel

2002 Writers/Performers: Timeca Briggs, Gregory Donavon, Lucia Harold, Arne Hartmann, Faith Helma, L Smith & Paul Susi

2003 Performers: Chandra Curtis, Kenneth Dembo, Tobias Lawrence, Erin Leddy, L Smith, Paul Susi, Nicole Turley & Chris Williams

"Having explored the inner world of a sailor turned drag queen turned Zen Buddhist master last summer... director Jonathan Walters and the Hand2Mouth Theatre now focus on a soulscape of a very different sort. With Jerusalem: Nat Turner's Uprising, Walters and company turn to the mystic revolutionary Turner, who led a brief but stirring slave revolt in 1831. The result is a much more tightly structured and powerful theatrical piece.... Dream prophecy and harsh reality are tightly interwoven in Turner's firsthand account of events (as told to Thomas R. Gray, who interviewed Turner in jail in 1831 and published his 'confessions'), and Hand2Mouth is justified in using a nonrealistic approach to the material.

"While the action follows a loosely chronological pattern, it is presented through stylized physical movement and richly theatrical devices more than traditional dialogue. Other than the single scene in which Nat Turner (Gregory Donavon) tells his own story, speech is limited primarily to one-word exclamations and song. The aura of mystery is established at the start. In murky night light, Turner's hand arises from under a blanket as he lies between two other reclining figures. Beckoned by mysterious forces, he is drawn away from human companionship into horrifying isolation. In the second scene... Turner is introduced to the kind of heartless violence that will mark his life. The Patriarch Owner (L Smith) orders him to slaughter a screeching, writhing pig, played with disturbing abandon by Arne Hartmann.

"Actors elevated on stilts--embodying the larger-than-life figures of Turner's visions--lumber through the next scenes, which illustrate the ugly realities of slave life. Skulking around the edges of the action from the start is Death, played by black-clad Faith Helma. She comes forward at play's end to embrace and soothe the doomed Turner, but the moment only arrives after the blazing climax of explosive movement that represents the revolt itself.

"Walters' company members work extremely well as an ensemble. It is Donavon, however, who drives the play forward. He brings a muscular intensity to his portrayal of Turner, and his disciplined vocal style carries depth to Turner's monologue."

-Richard Wattenberg, The Oregonian, May 2002:

"It's time that serious theater people abandon the commodity theater barns and seek out the work happening in rental spaces. Hand2Mouth's new piece, a fusion of technology, physicality and voice, is an often astonishing ensemble work exploring the world and life of Nat Turner, a slave who led an uprising against whites in Virginia in 1831.  

"Creator Jonathan Walters has taken the lessons he's learned from working with street theater troupes in Poland and has created a dark cirque out of American history. Stilt-walking angels war over the heads of men for the men's souls, while torch-wielding slaves immolate white slavers made of wire and paper.   Dream and revelation cross over into workfield drudgery, and Nat Turner (beautifully played by Gregory Donavon) rises up to become a visionary for his people.

"With an original score by Seth Nehil, set design by Sara Thompson and Richard Herman's puppets, Walters has fashioned an exciting and thought-provoking evening of drama. The Regional Arts & Culture Council should start paying more attention to who really deserves theater funding."

-Steffen Silvis, Willamette Week, May 2002

Jerusalem is not currently available for touring.

Performance Dates

  • May 2002 (indoor version)
  • September 2003 (outdoor version)