Calaveras Enterprise

Tough times inspire community support

Levi Lowe, right, pours emotion into a scene as Fredrick Douglass, as Thomas McGuire plays John C. Brown.

Levi Lowe, right, pours emotion into a scene as Fredrick Douglass, as Thomas McGuire plays John C. Brown.

The premier of “Abolition,” the latest production by Duende: Drama & Literature Inc., took place on July 26 at the Red Church in Sonora. With the temperature topping 105 that day, the air conditioning at the church was hard-pressed to cool the full house that gathered in the iconic building for the opening of Rick Foster’s latest play. Programs were converted to fans, waving energetically as the sizzling performance unfolded.

In “Abolition,” Foster presents a dramatic examination of the friendship between John C. Brown and Fredrick Douglass. The story is brought to life by Thomas Maguire, who plays Brown, and Levi Lowe – of Poetry Out Loud fame – who portrays Douglass.

Against a backdrop of Jesus Christ depicted in stained glass behind the altar of the church, the bond and the strife between these two men unfolds. The image of Jesus and the steamy sanctuary invoke an apropos atmosphere for a conversation between a Puritan abolitionist and a fugitive slave in the era preceding the Civil War.

Thomas Maguire and Levi Lowe star in “Abolition,” playing Thursday through Saturday in Sonora.Courtesy photo

Thomas Maguire and Levi Lowe star in “Abolition,” playing Thursday through Saturday in Sonora.Courtesy photo

The scene opens as Lowe strides toward the pulpit and begins speaking in a resonant, authoritative voice that commands attention as well as confidence. I’ve watched Lowe’s exciting poetry performances, but admit I was absolutely stunned during the first moments of this performance. He embodied the Douglass persona with vigor, empathy and benevolence. Though his acting is stellar throughout the show, his re-enactment of an Independence Day speech is glorious – when, as a black man, he asks, “Why am I called to speak here today?”

Equally glorious is Maguire’s performance as the passionate abolitionist. Maguire’s maturity as Brown contrasts with Lowe’s youthful earnestness as Douglass. The elder actor genuinely manifests his character’s purpose-driven decision-making and philosophical certainty. Through Maguire’s capable acting, the audience is forced, like Douglass, to accept, on some level, Brown’s shocking belief that the only solution to the “negro problem” is violence.

Rick Foster packs a lot of history into his play “Abolition.”

Rick Foster packs a lot of history into his play “Abolition.”

To authenticate this crucial era of history for a modern day audience, Foster has these brilliant actors step out of character periodically to broadcast news from the time. We get important background information about the proliferation of slaves in the South, despite the escape of 2,000 or more a year, the Dred Scott Decision, and the Kansas massacre, precipitated by Brown. The details of this and other atrocities are communicated vividly, creating images that are not for the faint of heart.

If you’ve ever attended a Rick Foster play, you know such details are the gems he derives from extensive research in order to dramatically reimagine history. In each of the plays Foster has written – and there are many – he seizes uninformed, often tragic and sometimes wicked, long-ignored details to create a more authentic look at historic times, people and events. In this case, Foster employs a historic 12-year friendship to look at how one man influenced and perhaps even drove events that led to the Civil War in a battle against racial injustice that continues to this day. For an incredibly revealing, as well as entertaining look at our history, make reservations for one of the final three shows of “Abolition” playing Thursday, Friday and Saturday at the Red Church.



Though there is much to keep the conversation going after witnessing this play, one idea is pointedly inspected, that is, the inherent power within one man’s actions. President John Kennedy said, “One person can make a difference and everyone should try.”

In 1989, President George H. W. Bush invoked the image of “1,000 points of light” in his inaugural address, and invited the nation to take action through service to their fellow citizens. He advocated that “points of light” demonstrate how “a neighbor can help a neighbor.”

While most of us may not have the driving passion and certainty of John C. Brown, we can nevertheless be of service to our fellow humans.

The following places are currently seeking volunteers for two worthy activities, serving the elders of our community and entertaining families during the holidays. First, Sierra Senior Providers Inc. (SSPI), which operates the Sonora Senior Center, is recruiting volunteers. The senior center, near the Tuolumne County Library on Greenley Road, is home to many senior services, programs and activities, including a senior lunch program, Meals on Wheels, health and fitness classes, as well as games and crafts. Firewood can even be provided for home heating. While SSPI always welcomes new volunteers, the need is especially pressing during the summer months to supply vacation coverage. The big need right now is for receptionists to welcome the 175-plus guests who visit the center daily. Receptionists also answer the multiline phone, assist with new-client intake, provide community resource information, check in lunch guests and help with other clerical tasks. Volunteer receptionists are asked to commit to at least one four-hour shift per week. Other volunteer opportunities include Meals on Wheels drivers and kitchen assistants. Those interested in volunteering should call 533-2622.

Every December, the staff and volunteers at Railtown 1897 State Historic Park in Jamestown go to great lengths to recreate the holiday experience depicted in the classic children’s book “Polar Express,” by Chris Van Allsburg. In preparation for the event, Railtown is looking for volunteers to participate in the program, which requires more than 50 people per day to make the magical experiences happen. Volunteers perform a number of activities, including serving as greeters and line monitors, cocoa pouring and serving, hospitality, general event support and more, depending on skills and areas of interest. Interested adult volunteers are invited to attend one of three Volunteer Open House events that are scheduled from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Aug 18 and Sept. 8 and 29 at the park.

No previous experience is necessary, as all training takes place at the open houses. If you are interested in taking part in this novel opportunity to create holiday cheer in the community, you can get your questions answered and learn more about this engaging annual event from program leaders.

If you wish to be inspired, see “Abolition.” If you wish to serve, volunteer.

Send word on your Tuolumne County events to

WHEN: 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday and 2 p.m. Saturday

WHERE: St. James Episcopal Church, 42 Snell St., Sonora

COST: $20 for adults and $10 for students at the Mountain Bookshop and St. James Episcopal Church

MORE INFO: 532-1580

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