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Nat Turner in Jerusalem

From 27 critic and 107 member reviews
Members say: Great acting, Thought-provoking, Slow, Relevant, Absorbing

About the show

New York Theatre Workshop presents Nathan Alan Davis' new two-hander about slave revolutionary Nat Turner and the lawyer who shared his story with the world. More…

In August 1831, Nat Turner led a slave uprising that shook the conscience of the nation. Turner's startling account of his prophecy and the insurrection was recorded and published by attorney Thomas R. Gray. NYTW 2050 Fellow Nathan Alan Davis makes his New York debut with this timely play, which imagines Turner’s final night in a jail cell in Jerusalem, Virginia, as he is revisited by Gray and they reckon with what has passed and what the dawn will bring.

NY Theatre Guide

"Davis’ script is a taut piece with moments of sublime language. He is able to aptly show each character’s psyche, their relation to society, and the intense effect Turner’s revolt had on Southern society. Sandberg-Zakian has brought the best out of Brannon and Vickers while also crafting an atmosphere that draws us intimately into their dialogue and relationship. 'Nat Turner in Jerusalem' is a magnificent, powerful play that looks at a violent past that still reverberates into our present." Full Review

New York Magazine / Vulture

"Davis resists any singular reading, let alone an overtly political one. He prefers to let the tale remain as mysterious and open-ended as possible, and thus, in its way, more terrifying. Plays that try to walk that line usually trip, but Davis, who is 36 and whose work is largely new to New York, has smartly erected a sturdy scaffold around the material...The production, directed by Megan Sandberg-Zakian, has nerves of steel." Full Review

Theatre Reviews Limited

"The play raises the kind of enduring questions that are vital to the conversation needed around the issues of systematic racism and white privilege...Megan Sandberg-Zakian’s staging is effective and she utilizes Susan Zeeman Rogers’s stark set to simulate the various points of view extant in Mr. Davis’s matrix of moral ambiguity and treasure trove of rich and enduring questions...Nathan Alan Davis’s remarkable new play reveals that ultimately justice does not always prevail." Full Review

The Huffington Post

"Playwright Nathan Alan Davis vacillates between lyricism and minimalism in the piercing two-hander 'Nat Turner in Jerusalem.' Centered on the last moments in the title character’s life after leading a slave rebellion, there are no easy answers here...Even the well-meaning white characters are brainwashed by racism, but still there are great moments that approach understanding and even kinship." Full Review

Front Mezz Junkies

"We float between the horror of what is described, and understanding his rage and reason for vengeance. It’s a delicate balancing act that both writer and performer do a superb job with, although the direction doesn’t carry much forward movement...Through this play, which at times is a bit slow, erratic, and static, we are forced to see the connections of slavery and racism that have spanned generations in this country and invade our modern daily lives." Full Review

Off Off Online

"Working with a small canvas Davis paints a portrait of a prophet of sorts...The duologues Davis has devised between Turner and his two visitors are engaging and often eloquent...Yet occasional moments ring false...Credibility aside, the production by Megan Sandberg-Zakian is deftly pared down and engaging, and Davis’s poetic language is given full weight." Full Review

Village Voice

"The sparse, persuasive two-hander examines America's racial history, but feels disturbingly close to the present day...Brannon's Turner is tough to look away from: fervent, fearless, and unconcerned with eliciting pity...Occasionally, the dialogue becomes repetitive: Davis parses every piece of subtext and symbolism, often explaining things he doesn't need to. The scenario he's placed onstage speaks eloquently enough to our national past, and to our present." Full Review


"The most interesting part of the creative exercise is not the activity inside Turner's cell, but the breadth of its implications about our relationship with history as a whole — whether 200 years past or flooding your Twitter feeds as we speak...The dialogue employed is filled with lovely prose and discerning metaphors. Though with little in the way of plot to prop up the dense language, and characters who seem immovable, the story can occasionally amble through the long night." Full Review

Act Three - The Reviews

"Regardless of the embellishment or not, the interaction between Mr. Turner and Mr. Gray was at times mesmerizing and at other times preachy. What did stand out is that the conflicts that took place in the 1800's are not all that different from the conflicts and struggles today. The circumstances may be different but the roots remain the same...Set simple, lighting a bit spotty, theatre configuration innovative, thoughts of a repeat - scary." Full Review

Lighting & Sound America

"Davis' current effort contains any number of gripping passages, but stumbles while trying to find a dramatic framework...The production is aided enormously by the performance of Phillip James Brannon...He doesn't make a single false step...But if Davis' words sing, his handling of dramatic structure still needs work...Time and again, the play works up an atmosphere of tension, only to let it dissipate. It's a stop-and-start approach that keeps us from becoming fully engaged." Full Review

DC Theatre Scene

"Unfortunately, the experience of actually sitting through the 90 minutes of 'Nat Turner in Jerusalem' is not as rewarding as one would hope. I wondered about the point of many of the choices...Yet, for all its missteps, there is no denying the beguiling presence at the center of the play – that of Phillip James Brannon’s performance as a Nat Turner who is both uncommonly intelligent and otherworldly." Full Review


"More effective–and affecting–as a statement on how far we haven’t come in this country when it comes to race relations than as truly riveting drama, 'Nat Turner' is worth 90 minutes of your time...The best reason to see the work is to witness the galvanizing performance of Phillip James Brannon as Turner...While some of Davis’ writing is quite lovely, viewing 'Nat Turner' can also feel like watching Al Sharpton preach for 90 minutes: exhausting in both good and bad ways." Full Review

Broadway Blog

“Turner’s story has particular resonance in our racially charged climate but I’m not certain Davis’s flat treatment does a lot to alter the dynamic. For all his suffering, it’s hard to sympathize with the messianic Turner, who ascribes his bloody actions to the word of God, not some deeply ingrained conviction invoked by slavery’s inhumanity, although he clearly propounds such beliefs. The chief reason to see the play is Brannon’s striking portrayal of Nat Turner." Full Review

The New York Times

"What suspense there is lies in waiting to see if Turner will respond to Gray’s plea and, more important, if the prisoner will in any way change the thinking of the other men. The answer to both turns out to be a qualified yes, and the ways in which Davis comes to these conclusions have a certain dialectic ingenuity. Mostly, though 'Nat Turner in Jerusalem' is a static work, as iconography tends to be. Sandberg-Zakian’s direction brings little kinetic energy or surprise to the proceedings." Full Review

Time Out New York

"Davis’s way into the material is neither historical pageant nor postmodern abstraction; he and director Megan Sandberg-Zakian opt (almost quaintly) for poetic naturalism with theatrical flourishes...Such a stolid, talky approach puts the burden, unfortunately, on the acting. Brannon’s Turner has an unexpected sweetness that grows on you and makes his flashes of righteous rage all the more rattling. But Vickers, as Gray, is too callow to add nuance or depth to his scenes." Full Review


"Appears as timely and topical...The play is a series of short, not particularly revelatory scenes...Most commendable is Brannon's ability to make words sound spiritually inspired even as they then suddenly ricochet off his targets like bolts of lightning. How they bounce off the more contemptuous personalities of both Gray and the guard is the most interesting aspect of the play...Davis's play is ultimately overly preachy and determinedly testy in its redundancies." Full Review

Theater Pizzazz

"If it all sounds monotonous, it is, but it also has redeeming features. Playwright Davis’s dialogue can be a little stilted, but it has a strong poetic spine. It’s rich with Biblical references and provocative images...And then there’s Brannon as the title character. Right from the start, when he’s talking to his chains, he’s fascinating...'Nat Turner in Jerusalem' gives life to a familiar but easily forgotten name from the history books, but it doesn’t coalesce into a satisfying drama." Full Review


"Davis' handling of this potentially galvanizing material is dramatically inert...He seems far more interested in overly theatrical, poetic monologues about faith, friendship and justice than he does about creating an actual conflict...Consider seeing it for Phillip James Brannon, who is very effective at conveying the depths of Turner's unshakable faith and searching nature." Full Review


"Davis’ play has an inventive but murky scenario that’s given an overwrought presentation and doesn’t ignite. It's only fitfully engrossing despite the efforts of those involved...Structured as a series of short scenes that are well written, the play cumulatively doesn’t hold interest...Brannon is compelling...Vickers is outstanding...If the production relied on this element it is possible that it would have been more satisfying. Instead there is a reliance on concepts and effects." Full Review

Talkin' Broadway

"All this makes 'Nat Turner in Jerusalem' an affair that's as staid as it is well meaning, and as dull and dreary as it is portentous. When historical facts preclude traditional suspense, they need to be replaced with something to substitute for it...Also a problem is Megan Sandberg-Zakian's oppressively conceptual staging which tries to impart motion and energy on the swiftly flowing waterway of progress, but looks alternately suffocating and silly." Full Review


"Nathan Alan Davis' rather static play about the event centers on a detail of the rebellion...The play is essentially a dialogue between Turner (a powerful Phillip James Brannon) and Gray (Rowan Vickers), a more-or-less decent man...The evening, directed by Megan Sandberg-Zakian, keeps promising to climb to something more, but that never happens...It's a frail reed on which to hang a play about a watershed moment in pre-Civil War American history." Full Review

The Guardian (UK)

"This is a play in search of its conflict. The lightly anachronistic language sits heavily in the mouths of the actors...Davis has an interest in and a seeming reverence for history that doesn’t always serve him well. A playwright with a more distinctive approach to language and genre might have found surreal terror or brutal comedy in these events. But Davis’s version, under the stolid direction of Megan Sandberg-Zakian, is disappointingly static." Full Review

The Hollywood Reporter

"Unfortunately, despite the incendiary nature of its subject matter, 'Nat Turner in Jerusalem' emerges as a tedious, lifeless affair...Brannon takes up some of the evening's slack with his fiercely commanding performance as Turner, but Vickers struggles in his two roles...'Nat Turner in Jerusalem' should have much more dramatic urgency than it does. Performed often in near-darkness, the sluggish play succeeds less in stirring emotions than lulling you to sleep." Full Review

Times Square Chronicles

"Mr. Brannon as Turner is so underplayed we never feel his faith other than the words, his conflict or his struggle...Vickers is an interesting actor and I would like to see him in something else...Davis’s play is monotonous and boring though at times beautifully poetic. Megan Sandberg-Zakian, direction moves the set, but not the audience." Full Review

The Huffington Post

"Playwrights have full license to tell their story the way they see it. Davis’s version is not all that convincing or all that compelling...Sandberg-Zakian keeps the story moving, yes; but one can wonder at her device of overloud rock/gospel music between scenes...Despite the potentially explosive subject matter, 'Nat Turner in Jerusalem' turns out to be non-compelling. Let it be added that this is a case where the program note is more intriguing than the play itself." Full Review

Absorbing, Clever, Great acting, Masterful, Must see

See it if This is a show that gives you more insight to a person you did not really know about.His characterization was incredible.Really inspiring.

Don't see it if If you don't want to understand why someone would kill women and children on their quest for freedom.

Absorbing, Intense, Profound, Educational, Thought-provoking

See it if you love American history and want to see a relevant play that will be much better than Birth of a Nation at explaining Mr. Turner's work.

Don't see it if you don't like long monologues or magical realism.

Absorbing, Great acting, Intense, Strong writing, Relevant

See it if You want to be provoked & are open to seeing & understanding the links between current events & US history of slavery

Don't see it if Want a light night of entertainment

Also Fantastic in just about every way - this is likely to be reprised - do... Read more Read less

Riveting performance by phillip brannon as nat turner in play that eloquently conveys religious roots of black drive 4 retribution vs. slavery/dehumanization

See it if /for captivating contest btw Turner as avenging angel vs. lawyer horrified at killing of innocents

Don't see it if /since asymmetrical contest/Turner more powerfully portrayed; play is inert/devoid of drama as neither party moves the other

Also This play does six things very well:... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Great acting, Ambitious

See it if You are interested in a different perspective on historical event

Don't see it if You are not interested in exploring race relations in the United States

Compelling, Resonant, Riveting, Relevant, Absorbing

See it if you're interested in the reverberations of history and compelling spiritual arguments.

Don't see it if moral and spiritual debates are boring for you.

Absorbing, Great acting, Clever

See it if Well acted historical drama!

Don't see it if If you only like musicals

Great acting, Intense, Thought-provoking, Ambitious, Great writing

See it if -you like a provocative play with a small excellent cast. -you appreciate explorations of history, faith, racism, death, character, choice

Don't see it if you expect lots of action you seek comedy or elaborate staging

Also The bleacher seats were terribly uncomfortable (probably an attempt at... Read more Read less

Intelligent, Thought-provoking, Relevant

See it if You are interested in American history, and African-American history particularly.

Don't see it if If you don't like historical plays or are uncomfortable hearing about Nat Turner's rebellion, including several violent acts.

Also Although current events are not specifically referenced, one is obviou... Read more Read less

Powerful, Relevant, Riveting

See it if You enjoy incredible acting performances and a powerful, very timely and relevant portrait or race and power.

Don't see it if You bore easily. This play requires a little work on the audience's part to stay engaged. Wooden benches for almost 2 hours tough on butt.

Absorbing, Intense, Great acting, Great staging, Relevant

See it if you are in the mood for an intense historical two-hander. the staging is beautiful in its simplicity.

Don't see it if the topic of slavery makes you uncomfortable

Absorbing, Great acting, Great staging, Great writing, Intense

See it if you like theatre that makes you think, that challenges your preconceptions. Acting was superb. Direction was marvelous. Well staged.

Don't see it if you want a light hearted romp!

Fascinating spiritual inspiring relevant

See it if Turner's divinely inspired rebellion as the roots of Black Lives Matter. Poetic script beautifully directed and acted. Philip Brannon soars

Don't see it if The wooden seats have backs and cushions and are not uncomfortable. It must have cost a lot to reconfigure NYTW. The experience is worth it

Interesting, Ambitious, Disappointing, Awkward, Timely

See it if you want a thought-provoking show which impels you to check the historical record

Don't see it if you want a totally realistic show with no traces of magical realism

Thought-provoking, Relevant, Indulgent, Great staging, Disappointing

See it if you want to be sort of told what happened during the Nat Turner revolt and enjoy beautifully haunting lighting and props.

Don't see it if you want a fleshed out, real, glimpse into the mind of Nat Turner. The other actor shows much more range and emotional connection.

Absorbing, Edgy, Great acting, Intelligent, Thought-provoking

See it if You like intense, well-acted, drama.

Don't see it if You don't like minimal sets and non-traditional seating. Dramatic, upsetting religious discussions.

Absorbing, Great acting, Slow, Thought-provoking, Historical

See it if you want to see: exceptional acting by Phillip James Brannon; a window into one example why racial and ethnic suppression do not work.

Don't see it if historical stories do not interest you; you do not like talky plays with little action; you dread a story that you know will end in death.

Slow, Great writing, Great acting

See it if You want to see beautiful words filled out by great actors.

Don't see it if you like plot

Clever, Intelligent, Thought-provoking

See it if you need a refresher course re: pre- Civil Was A two-hander worth seeing.

Don't see it if have trouble with small cushions for wooden bleacher type sets.. (only 90 minutes or so though)

Absorbing, Great acting, Relevant, Resonant, Thought-provoking

See it if you like historical stories that have relevance juxtaposed with contemporary elements.

Don't see it if don't want a show that's only carried by two great actors with great design and magical moments.

Great acting, Great staging, Slow, Thought-provoking, Resonant

See it if You a fan of history. If you enjoy a two person play.

Don't see it if You don't like shows without an intermission. If you like a story to have more than three characters.

Riveting, Relevant, Intelligent, Intense, Thought-provoking

See it if are interested in the story of nat turner. sadly it draws comparison with current issues

Don't see it if are uncomfortable watching a very intense story of racial issues.

Slow, Historical, Intelligent, Odd directorial choices

See it if You LOVE history. A fascinating character intrigues you, even if the director has made choices you don't understand.

Don't see it if You want "easy" theater, or lots of action. This is slow, with a protagonist who's done some really bad stuff.....

Clever, Great acting, Profound, Relevant, Thought-provoking

See it if You are interested in themes of historical race-relations.

Don't see it if You do not enjoy only solo and partnered dialogue-driven work.

Indulgent, Intelligent, Profound, Slow, Thought-provoking

See it if curious about Nat Turner and have patience for poetic writing and little plot

Don't see it if get bored easily by repetition and lack of traditional action