The Long Rail North, as part of New York International Fringe Festival – FringeNYC (a production of The Present Company), showing on Saturday October 13th – 4:45 pm; Monday October 15th – 9:30 pm; Saturday October 20th – 7:00 pm; Tuesday October 23rd – 4:45 pm (Talkback directly following); Saturday October 27th – 12:15 pm. Tickets: $22 For tickets www.FringeNYC.org or www.thelongrailnorth.com
The Long Rail North centers on Pvt. Thomas Morgan, a black union soldier, who must escape via train with a young southern white girl named Molly Barnes that he rescued from a plantation fire of a nearby Civil War battle. Exhausted, with limited resources and even fewer allies, Morgan (played by Xavier Rodney) continues traveling north getting Molly to safety – despite her racist view of him and his race. Regardless of his good intentions, both union and confederate forces pursue them.
Michael Hagins is simply everywhere. He won awards at Planet Connections Theatre Festivity; turned some gents into swashbuckling jousters in Two Gentlemen from Verona; and put a war romance in the “Basement” of the Gene Frankel Theater. This is just the tip of a long dramatic iceberg of hot tickets. What all his work has in common is a sense of unification – color and culture butting heads to form a more perfect union. Long Rail North is another in the Hagins canon of powerful prose, thought-provoking messages, and when needed, rousing fight scenes.
Ai sat briefly with the prophetic and prolific author… only a second, we’s already working on something else!
Michael, why did you write this?
I wrote The Long Rail North when I was 20 years old and in college. I’ve been fascinated by the Civil War, and after watching Glory for the 20th time and doing research on the 54th Massachusetts, I had the idea of telling one man’s story doing everything he can save a white person, and a little girl who can’t defend herself properly. From then on, the play grew over 15 years from a one-act to a screenplay and eventually to the 5 person play going up in FringeNYC. Unlike most works I’ve done, I’ve always known how the play moves and how it ends, and that’s because it all just clicked for me. I remember when I finally put the final touches on this script 4 years ago, I felt like I could finally say “It’s ready to be seen by human eyes.”
How does this play resonate today – feel free to be political.
There are so many ways that this play is relevant today. Can a Black man travel with a white woman – let alone a 12 year old girl – and not be afraid of being stopped or accused of doing something illegal? Can a Black man feel welcome in the South or even certain parts of the North? Do people still think people are inferior because of their race or upbringing? In the Civil War, both Union and Confederate armies didn’t think much of Black men and women, who were willing to risk their lives to fight. In the Union, Black soldiers were paid $3 less than white soldiers, and most were encouraged to quit or change jobs and become doctors or scouts or cooks. In the Confederacy, laws were passed that any Black soldier who took up arms against the Confederacy and captured would be put back in slavery or even executed, and not treated as a prisoner of war. And in my story, one Black man continues to fight both sides, not caring of the consequences, showing bravery and courage and fighting against those who find him inferior, all to save one little girl, who happens to be white.
You are prolific and prophetic. In 100 years, what do you want history to note about your canon of work?
I would love for this show to continue to be a piece of historical fiction that talks about the taught ignorance not only in the Civil War but the times after that. As for my work, I’ve gone on such a range from comic sword-fighting shows to racial engaging work, and while I’d love for the fun works to continue to be lighthearted and fun for those seeking that, I also hope that my plays can open peoples’ eyes on the lone Black man facing and persevering so many trials and tribulations.
Tell us about fight choreography? Good/bad/why/ etc.
Fight choreography is a point of pride to me, because it allows the actors to engage in physical activity night after night without bumps and bruises. So many plays, both classical and contemporary, involve some form of stage combat, and safety needs to continue to be tantamount whenever such works are done. My show is lucky that we only have 5 nights of performance. Some Broadway shows perform 8 shows a week, and 2 a day in some cases, and without good fight direction, how could anyone do those many shows and not get hurt?
What’s next for this play and what’s next for you – in case they are separate questions.
I hope that The Long Rail North goes further. I’d love for this amazing cast and crew to move on and perform in a much bigger theatre. Every person involved is working so hard to bring this dream of mine to life, and all I can do to repay them is continue pushing for The Long Rail North to be picked up by producers and give it more life than just the month of October. As for me, as I continue advocating for this cast and crew to go further up the ladder, I will continue to write new work and find new ways to keep living the dream here in New York City.