Four years ago, three new plays featuring Frederick Douglass opened in DC: The Raid from Theater Alliance, The Frederick Douglass Project from Solas Nua, and The Agitators from Mosaic. They were each terrific; I wrote rave reviews of them all. But none of them featured Anna, the Negro freewoman who arranged for Frederick’s escape from slavery. During their 44-year marriage, Anna bore Frederick five children, managed their household, and — as the magnificent new musical American Prophet now at Arena affirms — was the lifelong helpmeet without whom Frederick could never have had the freedom to become the man we now renown.
In life, Anna was disparaged — for not being able to read, for being darker skinned than Frederick — and in death, she has been dismissed by white historians. But the insightful and inspired authors of American Prophet — Charles Randolph-Wright (book) and Marcus Hummon (book, music, and lyrics) — have rescued Anna from the shadows of history and created a role that Kristolyn Lloyd performs so movingly you will feel Anna’s presence in Frederick’s heart and probably your own.
I could not stop thinking about Kristolyn’s performance as Anna. It had warmth, gravitas, passion, inner strength. She seemed to be channeling a woman with extraordinary historical significance and contemporary resonance, and I wanted to know more. I wanted to know the Anna that Kristolyn had come to know. In a delightful and deep Zoom conversation, punctuated by Kristolyn’s lilting laugh, I found out.