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‘Nat Turner in Jerusalem’ review: Timely but preachy history

Rowan Vickers, left, and Phillip James Brannon in

Rowan Vickers, left, and Phillip James Brannon in "Nat Turner in Jerusaleum." Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

WHAT “Nat Turner in Jerusalem”

WHERE New York Theatre Workshop, 79 E. Fourth St.

INFO $69; 212-460-5475; nytw.org

BOTTOM LINE Didactic, preachy drama about the historic slave revolt.

“Nat Turner in Jerusalem” takes on the important — and with the upcoming movie Nate Parker’s “The Birth of a Nation” suddenly timely — 1831 slave revolt with the seriousness deserved by this legendary and famously brutal insurrection. Alas, the 90-minute hair-shirt of a drama by Nathan Alan Davis, who has a fellowship at New York Theatre Workshop, is didactic, preachy and airless in ways that seismic history must never be.

It is the night before the deeply religious Turner will be hanged. Shackled, he gazes at his last sunset through the bars of his implausibly tidy and sanitary cell. He is visited by a kindly guard and by Thomas R. Gray (both played by Rowan Vickers). Gray is the lawyer best known for having published “The Confessions of Nat Turner,” and has come to see if he could get Turner to betray other revolts.

As Turner, Phillip James Brannon never gets beyond the beatific martyr in director Megan Sandberg-Zakian’s production, staged on a runway with audiences on either side. Every so often the platform moves. The play does not.

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