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Returning the Bones a visceral history lesson
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Returning the Bones a visceral history lesson

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

Returning the Bones
Richard Hugo House on February 12 and 13
Solo Performance Festival on March 11, 19, and 20


Gin Hammond, one of Seattle's best one-person-play actors, has created a one-person play using a fascinating character in her own family. She performed the piece at Richard Hugo House on February 12 and 13, but you will have an additional opportunity to catch the piece during Solo Performance Festival in March, held at Theatre Off Jackson.

Based on the life and times of her aunt, Dr. Carolyn (Bebe) Hammond Montier, Returning the Bones is about Montier's struggle as an African-American to achieve everything she has dreamed of, including a medical degree, and her extraordinary opportunity to represent Howard University at the Students' International Clinic Congress in Europe in 1946, following World War II. Once in Europe, Montier went to the concentration camp, Auschwitz, in Poland, where she saw bones of recent camp internees and actually collected some and brought them back to the United States.

Montier grew up in rural Texas and experienced all the horrors of Jim Crow, segregation, discrimination, and the violence that bigotry brings, including lynching and beatings. Her father was a doctor, but because he was black, many white patients wouldn't be attended to by him, unless they wanted to keep secret a case of venereal disease or something else they didn't want town gossips to know. Her father instilled a strong sense of justice in the family, and in the play she suggests that she was taught civil rights activism from the womb.

Her family tree includes Alexander Hamilton, the famed politician, and some family members who were so light-toned that they passed for white. While this situation could be useful in getting better behavior from law enforcement, for instance, it was likely a confusing situation to deal with and emphasized the absurdity of bigotry based on skin pigment.

Hammond has woven together Montier's story from that of a young girl accompanying her father on his medical emergencies to her acceptance at Howard University Medical School and to Europe. Hammond is a consummate performer who controls audience attention with great assurance and charm. She has written in 26 different characters, many of who are related as great-aunts and uncles, and has a marvelous facility with moving subtly between all of them and still allowing you to know exactly whom she is portraying at that instant.

Woven into the personal story are educational moments that give you a taste of the discrimination Montier felt, and even brush up against Holocaust denial and other kinds of prejudice. The first act was performed some months back and taped for the Seattle Channel, though it has had some revising since that taping. While the piece might be considered in development, each moment is burnished brightly. It has powerful potential and gives you a surprisingly visceral way to experience U.S. history. For more information, go to www.ginhammond.com or www.theatreoffjackson.org and look for the March 4-April 4 Solo Performance Festival. Hammond's dates are March 11, 19 and 20.

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