South Theater’s Thoreau Production Looks at Morality; Promises ‘Individuality’


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‘The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail’ chronicles the writer’s life, including his infamous incarceration for refusing to pay federal taxes.

In 1846, Henry David Thoreau spent a night in jail. In 2019, the San Jacinto College South Campus Department of Theatre and Film is revisiting the writer’s infamous incarceration in its fall production, “The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail.”

Theater Professor Kevin Holden, also the show’s director, said the play primarily reflects the writer’s spirit of resistance. The title refers to his arrest for not paying a poll tax used to fund the Mexican-American War.

“This play is a biopic of Henry David Thoreau, and focuses on the formative years that lead up to his action of civil disobedience,” Holden said, “where he refused to pay his federal taxes due to the fact that he didn’t morally agree with how the government was spending it.”

Although the play chronicles factual moments of Thoreau’s life, Holden points to the term “theatricalized biography,” used in the show’s promotional material, to denote liberties taken for artistic effect.

“Thoreau is in jail the entire show, but we see his memories from what lead him to this point theatricalized outside of the jail,” he said. “These memories, of course, incorporate a good deal of biographical data from the actual historical/literary figure of Henry David Thoreau.”

Auditions took place during the last week of August, and rehearsals began the first week of September. Holden said even the casting decisions are representative of Thoreau’s mantra of “walking to the beat of our own drum.”

“Many of our cast members will be playing roles against gender, and that includes the actor playing Thoreau,” he added.

Ultimately, Holden said, he hopes the audience leaves the theater with the lessons Thoreau tried to impart during his life: listening to one’s inner conscience, going against the grain, and doing what is right.

Meanwhile, the director had one word to offer that he said thoroughly encapsulates both Thoreau’s philosophy and the spirit of the show: “individuality.”

Performances of ‘The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail’ take place at 8 p.m. tonight, tomorrow, and Oct. 24-26 in the Black Box Theatre in the Flickinger Fine Arts Center (S15) on the South Campus.