Eric Carl’s “Afric’s Muse” Debuts On Barton Stage March 4-7

WILSON, N.C. – On Thursday, March 4, Eric Carl’s world premiere of “Afric’s Muse” will open on stage in Barton’s new Lauren Kennedy and Alan Campbell Theatre.  Evening performances will be held Thursday through Saturday, March 4-6, at 8 p.m. and on Sunday afternoon, March 7, at 3 p.m.

The audience is immediately drawn to the lead character as they are introduced simultaneously to a modern black woman named Phillis living in contemporary Boston and an articulate young black female poet and slave named Phillis Wheatley who lived in Colonial America in the late 1770s.

“Afric’s Muse” celebrates Phillis Wheatley who, ahead of her time, defied the odds to embody both the American dream of success and, ironically, the American shame of slavery. Witness an amazing recollection of stories by celebrated statesmen and poets of the 1770s as Phillis’ story deftly traverses time and place in epic proportions, and provocative parallels are drawn throughout this compact production.

“When Phillis Wheatley attained fame in the late 1770s, American colonists didn’t know what to make of her,” shared Eric Carl, playwright and director of the show.  “There was no precedent for a slave woman who spoke and wrote better English than many white men and who created poetry that garnered attention from some of the most prominent men of the time, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Voltaire. More than 200 years after her death, Wheatley remains a figure of controversy. When she is considered at all, she is alternately viewed as a heroine who overcame immense adversity to prove herself worthy of respect or, conversely, as an Uncle Tom who placated and flattered her captors to attain her selfish goals.”

“Afric’s Muse” is an attempt to make sense of this extraordinary woman by extrapolating from tax records, letters, memoirs, newspapers, and her remarkable poems. “But the play is more than an exercise in detective work, as the primary sources rarely speculate on motive,” continued Carl.  “Myriad questions remain. Why might Phillis have returned from possible freedom in England to nurse her mistress, Susannah Wheatley?  Why did John Wheatley suddenly free Phillis when he had shown no previous inclination to do so? How did Phillis bear the deaths of her infant children? Afric’s Muse connects the enigmatic scraps of public record into a portrait of a flesh-and-blood woman.

“This perspective allows us to examine Phillis’ place in history and contemplate the specter of slavery that still casts a shadow in America,” Carl concludes. “Even today, in the wake of Barack Obama’s immensely popular election to the Presidency, America grapples uneasily with its attitudes toward its citizens of African descent.”

The “Afric’s Muse” company, directed by Carl, includes student, regional, and national talent:  Rasool Jahan, Bob Wagner, Jesse Jones, Elizabeth Winstead, Valerie Woodard, Jason Knox, Michael Murray, Rob Rainbolt, and Wesley Pridgen.  Adam Twiss, director of Theatre at Barton, is the show’s producer; and Chris Bernier, technical director of theatre, will oversee the lighting and scenic design.  Costume design is by LeGrande Smith, and sound design is by Matt Smith. Christine Rapp is the stage manager, and Jensen Davis and Chris Wallen are assistant stage managers.

Individual show tickets are available by calling the box office toll-free at (866) 811- 4111. The hours of operation are 9 a.m. – 9 p.m. E.S.T. Monday – Friday and 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.  Tickets will also be on sale at the door.

General admission is $8 for adults and $5 for students.  Barton College students, faculty and staff are admitted free with proper ID. Group rates are also available for parties of six or more; contact Adam Twiss at or 252-399-6484 to make arrangements.


Questions?  Please contact Kathy Daughety, director of public relations, at 252-399-6529 or email: