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John Brown’s Body—a Lifetime in the Making


By Phoebe Greyson

John Brown’s Body, a one-act play about the controversial abolitionist John Brown, takes place in Brown’s prison cell in the predawn hours before his execution. William R. Slusser, the playwright and principal actor, describes the forces that gave rise to his portrayal of Brown:

“When I was in the seventh grade, I remember reading a single paragraph in my American history book that referenced John Brown and his Raiders. There was not much detail about who he was or what he did or why he did it, but I distinctly remembered that name. It sounded exotic to me—like a band of marauding pirates or Robin Hood and his Merry Men.

In twelfth-grade American history, there was a bit more detail but not much. Brown and his men attacked a place called Harper’s Ferry because he was an abolitionist. He was captured and hanged as a criminal for doing this. End of story.

Nearly 30 years later, I was puttering around my home with the TV on in the background and from my office, I heard a mention of John Brown’s name. My ears immediately pricked up, and I went into the living room and watched a documentary about the American Civil War and Brown’s role in that horrific conflagration.

I learned that Brown was a deeply devout and religious man. He believed slavery was a crime against God and humanity. He organized a militia group and fought in Kansas to prevent Kansas from entering the Union as a slave state (a preview of the Civil War to come). He also believed that God had chosen him personally to overthrow the institution of slavery and, like Moses, to lead all of his ebony children to the Promised Land.

I was hooked. I know a good story when I see one.

After conducting painstaking and voluminous research, I wrote a screenplay and then this play about Brown’s life. I became obsessed with Brown’s story for many reasons. Eventually, I came to see him as a kind of touchstone for all of American history. His story directly confronts the appalling issue of racism in the United States—an issue the country is still grappling with today.

John Brown’s Body, starring William R. Slusser, will be performed at the San Miguel Playhouse, Avenida Independencia 82, on October 12 and 13 at 7pm and October 14 at 3pm. Reserved-seating tickets are 250 pesos (advance) and 300 pesos at the door. They can be purchased online at; at the Boleto City ticket kiosk on the second floor of the Mercado Sano, 123 Ancha de San Antonio 11am–5pm, Monday–Saturday; and at the door one hour before showtime on the day of the show. The Playhouse provides a taxi concierge and free secured parking.


John Brown’s Body

Fri–Sat, Oct. 12–13, 7pm

Sun, Oct 14, 3pm

San Miguel Playhouse

Avenida Independencia 82



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