Lost on the Natchez Trace
Jan Buttram's consistently engaging drama focuses on an encounter between a runaway slave and the man who sold him away from his family.
Set in October of 1825, the work begins as Malcolm Jeters (Peter Brouwer) is calling out for help after suffering an injury while traversing the Natchez Trace, a major trade route in the South during that period. His cries are answered by Tom (Leopold Lowe), a runaway slave who may be Malcolm's only chance for salvation. But before he agrees to help, Tom wants to bargain.
The terms of exchange for the deal are what give the play its drive. Tom is not after money, but information. He is convinced that Malcolm is the auctioneer who sold him away from his wife and newborn child, and Tom wants to know where they are now.
Malcolm at first denies he's the man Tom thinks he is, but it's clear from early on that he is lying. However, he does not easily give up the information Tom requires, and their negotiation is filled with tension.
Buttram carefully doles out clues that shed light upon the two characters' entwined histories. It may at first seem too much of a coincidence that they would have met under these particular circumstances. But a late-in-the-play revelation at least accounts for some of the work's more logic-straining plot points.
Brouwer delivers a layered performance as a man who is both desperate to survive and equally desperate to keep hidden the things about himself of which he is most ashamed. As he inevitably gives into Tom's demands, the pain and regret behind his eyes seem real.
Lowe prowls the stage like a panther, climbing upon its multi-leveled surfaces with an easy grace. At times, he actually seems too confident, and a little less self-assurance could have added some depth to his characterization.