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20

SUNDAY

Who best to write a play about slavery but a slave? With The Escape, escaped slave William Wells Brown penned an organic—if melodramatic—tale that only one who had swept the steps of the Big House or been forced to don an itchy burlap sack could tell. In the 1856 play—which was rediscovered in the basement of a Boston library in 1963—Brown debunked the historic image of the benign gentlelady of the house, portraying a mistress as vicious as Ol’ Massa. Brown’s clear sense of irony is heightened by his keen grasp of detail: One slave, dubbed “well worth her weight for rough usage,” knows of her birthday only that she was “born at sweet potato-digging time.” The Escape’s sense of authenticity and abundant anecdotal gems make it worthy of national-treasure status, so be sure to catch Theater 19’s staged reading of this rarely performed work at 7:30 p.m. at the District of Columbia Arts Center, 2438 18th St. NW. $5. (202) 462-7833. (Nefretiti Makenta)