Good morning. It’s Wednesday. Today we’ll find out why a grave in Brooklyn is getting a plaque about the Boston Tea Party. We’ll also find out about a new theater at the site of what is widely considered the first Black theater company in the United States.
The Boston Tea Party took place in Boston.
So why will officials from groups based in Boston that are preparing to celebrate the uprising’s 250th anniversary spend Wednesday morning at a cemetery in Brooklyn, 230 miles from where the tea was thrown overboard?
To commemorate Ebenezer Stevens, a patriot who boarded one of the ships in Boston Harbor.
“He’s a classic example of an ordinary person who does an extraordinary thing,” said Jonathan Lane, the executive director of Revolution 250, a consortium of Massachusetts organizations that is preparing for the anniversary on Dec. 16.
“He doesn’t do it alone — he’s in concert with many of his friends and neighbors,” Lane said, “but he was part of a moment in time where people stood up for what they believed were their individual rights and liberties.”
Lane will attend this morning’s ceremony at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, during which a plaque for Stevens’s grave will be presented to Jeff Richman, Green-Wood’s historian. The medallion will be the 136th placed on the grave of a Tea Party participant; Stevens is the only one buried in New York City.
“He was a rather spirited individual, rather brave, of course,” said Evan O’Brien, the creative manager of Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum, who devised the campaign to mark the graves of the Tea Party patriots. And, O’Brien added, Stevens “risked everything for this cause he believed in — you get a glimpse of his personality that he was involved in this rather outrageous event.”
Stevens was one of about 150 people assigned to board three ships in the harbor to protest a British tax on tea and, more broadly, to protest taxation without representation.
“What a lot of people think about is it was this unruly mob,” O’Brien said. “That is not true at all. It was a well orchestrated, finely tuned operation. Each man knew his job. Some would haul the chests of tea out of the holds. Others were waiting at the rails to break them open and shake the tea out.”
Stevens went on to fight in the Revolution. He took part in the Battle of Bunker Hill in 1775 and was there when the British general John Burgoyne surrendered at Saratoga in 1777. He rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel and eventually served under the Marquis de Lafayette.
Later, as a major general in the New York State Militia, he mobilized soldiers to defend New York City in case of a British attack during the War of 1812. A fort named for him guarded Hell Gate and the East River channels.
Richman, the Green-Wood historian, said that Stevens’s life outside the military was also eventful: He amassed a fortune as an owner of ships — a notice in The Evening Post in 1807 advertised passage and freight shipping to Bordeaux, France, aboard one of Stevens’s “new and fast” sailing ships. He sold liquor to Thomas Jefferson. And a granddaughter became famous: the author Edith Wharton.
Look for a sunny to partly sunny day with temperatures in the mid-50s. Tonight, under a partly cloudy sky, the low will be in the 40s.
In effect until Nov. 23 (Thanksgiving Day).
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A new theater that honors what was there before
For the opening tonight of New York University’s new African Grove Theater, the site’s the thing. The original African Theater, widely considered to have been the first Black theater company in the United States, presented classics like “Richard III” and “Othello” at the same corner, Bleecker and Mercer Streets.
“If the model of the African Theater had been followed, American theater would be different,” said Michael Dinwiddie, professor of dramatic writing at N.Y.U.’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study, who spearheaded a campaign to name the new performance space in the African Theater’s honor. “It helps us understand the complexity of the American theater.”
Appropriately, the play being staged tonight is based on the story of the play that opened the earlier theater on the site, “The African Company Presents Richard III.”
The original theater was organized by William Alexander Brown, a retired ship steward from the West Indies. The location at Bleecker and Mercer was his second. He had started out in what is now known as TriBeCa, staging poetry readings and short plays for Black New Yorkers. He moved to the location now occupied by N.Y.U.’s Paulson Center in 1821.Appearing as the king in “Richard III” on opening night was an enslaved man; New York would not outlaw slavery until six years later.
Brown presented “Othello” in the second month, but he lasted only two years at the new location. “When he dared to go toe-to-toe with a nearby white theater, each presenting rival Shakespeare productions,” our critic Maya Phillips wrote in 2021, “he was harassed by police and his theater was raided. His performers were attacked. He changed the theater’s name and moved it several times, opening and closing and reopening until the financial well ran dry.”
Carl Cofield, an associate arts professor at N.Y.U.’s Tisch School of the Arts and the associate artistic director of the Classical Theater of Harlem, said that Brown was competing against a theater that was “bringing in the biggest stars from Europe,” including Junius Brutus Booth, a British actor whose actor sons included one who was famous, Edwin Booth, and one who was infamous — John Wilkes Booth, who assassinated Lincoln.
Dinwiddie told me that he had noticed a plaque commemorating the African Theater at the corner when he moved to the neighborhood in the 1990s. “I was like, I remember that — I had read about it,” he said, including a chapter in “Black Manhattan” by James Weldon Johnson, N.Y.U.’s first Black professor.
Hopper’s paintings as opera
The opera “Later the Same Evening” takes five Edward Hopper paintings and imagines what happens to the figures in them. John Musto, who composed the music for Mark Campbell’s libretto, described “Later the Same Evening” as “a love letter to New York, set in 1932.”
It’s a love letter as complicated as New York (and New Yorkers), with Hopper-esque moodiness and estrangement.
There is a couple that is not getting along. There is a widow who has come to the city for a date she is not sure she wants to go on. There is dancer who is leaving town, her dreams of stardom dashed. The director, Alison Moritz, writes that all of the characters eventually “converge for a moment of true New York serendipity at — where else? — a Broadway show.”
Backstage, there is a moment in one scene when four singers converge around a microphone. “Hopper could have done some painting around this one mic,” said Michelle Rofrano, the assistant conductor, who cues them for an old-fashioned radio commercial that is heard onstage. The four sing a made-up toothpaste jingle — “It’s not just white, it’s Pearladent white.”
Without a Hopper to capture it, the little tableau dissolves. The singers have other roles in the opera, which will be performed tonight and Friday at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater at the Juilliard School.
“The odd thing is people keep talking about Hopper and his sense of color,” Musto said. “I have to keep telling them color means nothing to me. I am colorblind.”
‘You are everything’
I was waiting for a friend outside a building on East 73rd Street when an S.U.V. pulled up and parked.
The driver stayed in the car with the radio on and the windows open. “You Are Everything” by the Stylistics came on, and I began to sing along (quietly).
As the song got to the chorus — “You are everything, and everything is you” — a guy walked past me. He was singing along too, and we exchanged man-this-is-such-a-great-song nods.
Just then, the driver turned off the radio. The other guy and I shared a confused look. Then he approached the car.
“Bro,” he implored the driver. “Turn that back on!”
And he did.
— Joe Katz
Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.
Glad we could get together here. See you tomorrow. — J.B.
P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword and Spelling Bee. You can find all our puzzles here.
Kellina Moore and Ed Shanahan contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].