'Safe House' looks at little known aspect of U.S. History

Judy Richter, November 12th, 2016

Aurora Theatre Company sheds light on a little-known chapter of American history, specifically African American history, in the West Coast premiere of the 2014 “Safe House” by Keith Josef Adkins.

Set in Kentucky in 1843, “Safe House” concerns the Pedigrews, a free family of color. They are free because they had an ancestor who was the child of a black woman and a white man.

Addison Pedigrew (David Everett Moore) is a skilled shoemaker assisted by his brother, Frank (Lance Gardner), and their aunt, Dorcas (Dawn L. Troupe).

Although nominally free, they’re nearing the end of what amounts to a two-year house arrest imposed by the local sheriff because they had helped a runaway slave trying to get to Liberia via the Underground Railroad.

(According to Wikipedia, “The Republic of Liberia began as a settlement of the American Colonization Society (ACS), who believed blacks would face better chances for freedom in Africa than in the United States.” Thousands moved there during the approximately 40 years before the Civil War.)

Addison could go around the county selling shoes, but he and the others had to be home by sundown, keep their doors open and faced other restrictions. The sheriff’s helper, Bracken (Cassidy Brown), came by frequently to check that they weren’t breaking any rules.

With the restrictions about to end, the brothers find themselves at odds. Addison wants to open a shoe shop in their house and assumes Frank agrees. Frank has other ideas, such as getting out from under Addison’s domination.

Addison also assumes that their neighbor, Clarissa (Dezi Solèy), will marry him, but she and Frank are secretly in love.

The conflicts come to a head when Frank and Dorcas assist a fugitive slave, Roxie (Jamella Cross). That’s when Frank learns just how far Addison will go to fulfill his dream no matter what the cost to Frank.

As skillfully directed by L. Peter Callender, the drama unfolds grippingly. Each character is clearly defined.

Troupe as Dorcas creates an especially strong character, one who provides stability and who tries to keep peace between the brothers.

The play’s ambience is enhanced for Aurora’s intimate space with a set by Kate Boyd, costumes by Callie Floor, lighting by Jon Tracy, and sound and music by Chris Houston.

This thought-provoking drama runs just over two hours with one intermission. It’s well worth seeing.

“Safe House” will continue through Dec. 4 at Aurora Theatre Company, 2081 Addison St., Berkeley. For tickets and information, call (510) or visit www.auroratheatre.org.