Nat Turner’s Last Struggle: Finding His Way Home

by P. A. Wray
  • 50 - 60 minutes
  • 1 Male 1 Female Max/Min 2

Simple Set, Staging Design Potential


This one-act, two character play opens during the pre-dawn hours of November 5, 1831. It is the day that Nat Turner, leader of a bloody slave rebellion, will be tried, convicted and sentenced to death. In the predawn hours before the trial a mysterious woman enters to purify the courtroom. Seven days later she is there by the hanging tree when Turner is executed and thrown into the darkness of death – where he fears he has been eternally abandoned.


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Performance Fee $60.00 A Production License Fee Per Performance (mandatory for all performances)

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Play Details


When Nat is finally given light he struggles to make his case – taking us on a journey where we see a bright, enslaved boy grow into a divinely-inspired freedom fighter. And the mysterious woman is there – stealthily guiding Nat and us to our long-forgotten home.

Much has been written about Nat Turner – most focus on him as a fierce rebelling slave or murderous, deranged fanatic.

This full-length play shows him as something quite different – a thoughtful, multi-dimensional character longing for self-emancipation who sought inspiration from the scriptures.

To turn history into this unique version of the slave rebel’s destiny, P. A. Wray turned to Thomas Gray’s The Confessions of Nat Turner to enter the mind of Turner, then she wove in local lore, African tradition and her own imagination.


“This time she {Wray} added the great mother archetype . . . Therein lies an enhanced artistry of the new version of her play. By using this protean great mother character she was able to make Turner even more multi-dimensional, even more memorable in longing to be self-emancipated…even more memorable in showing what scholar Joy DeGruy has dubbed PSST: post slavery syndrome trauma, even more memorable in having him dramatically articulate his intentions first told to the lawyer Thomas Gray. Through a picturesque Afro-centric stage set replete with an all-powerful tree, itself a motherlode of African feminine mythology, Patti {Wray} was able to keep Nat Turner’s voice just as powerful as in was in 1831.”
Dr. Margaret Bernice Smith Bristow ( From March 18, 2017, Review)

From the Play


NAT TURNER . . . an adult black male, a slave in 19th Century America
JEREMIAH COBB . . . an adult white male, the chief magistrate at the trial
(may be a voice over or actor on or off stage)
GREAT MOTHER . . . an adult African female, she is a representation of the Earth Mother Goddess or Mother Africa, she will need to be a percussionist as well as singer

(Lights rise later that morning on a seated NAT TURNER. JERMIAH COBB addresses Nat—may be a voice over or actor on or off stage.)

JEREMIAH COBB  (VO): Nat Turner! Stand up.(Nat stands)Have you anything to say why the sentence of death should not be pronounced against   you?

NAT: I have not, I have made a full confession to Mr. Gray, and I have nothing more to say.

JEREMIAH COBB  (VO): Attend then to the sentence of the court. You have been arraigned and tried before this court, and convicted of one of the highest crimes in criminal code. Your only justification is that you were led away by fanaticism. If this be true I pity you, you have my deepest sympathies. I am nevertheless called upon to pass the sentence of the court, that you be taken hence from the jail from where you came, thence to the place of execution, and on Friday next, between the hours of 10 AM and 2 PM be hung by the neck until you are dead! dead! dead and may the Lord have mercy on your soul . . . your only hope must be in another world.

(Lights fade on a defiant Nat. Lights rise on the Nature/Preaching Area Friday November 11, 1831 just before dawn. A mist is present. The Great Mother enters and sings to the hanging tree.)

Southern tree, Southern tree, I weep for you
I see the things they make you do –
Makes you part of their dark deeds
Blood-drops on your roots and leaves
Southern tree, Southern tree, Southern tree. . .

What’s to happen now we’re depending on you
Southern tree, Southern tree, Southern tree.

Look, here he comes –

Now you stand tall and stay strong.
Southern tree, listen to me! Let it be!

NAT enters, hands tied behind his back, he steps ups on the block beneath the tree and is prepared for hanging. Noose around his neck he stands ready and defiantly looks at the crowd, then fixes his stare straight out.  His head jerks, he gets a wide-eyed look, then lets go – his head slumping

(Black out. After a few moments of shuffling about in darkness, Nat speaks.)

NAT: What is this place? What is this darkness? Lord, where do you have me?  Lord, this is your servant, Nat. Lord, can you hear me!?

(Great Mother strikes the ground – a small area around Nat is lit. (She will share the  stage with Nat at times gently guiding him through this journey, calling him to the next memory with light and song. Nat is unaware of her presence. Nat looks up and around the periphery trying to see  if anyone is there.)

NAT: Are you here, Lord? This is Nat. I killed the serpent  . . .  I killed it. (waits for a response) Lord, this is your servant – I killed the serpent. I had to do it. I had to, you – –

(Black out)

NAT: No! Wait! (pause) No! Don’t . . .

(All is black and silent for a few moments. Great Mother strikes the ground, a light rises to one side of the stage. Nat hurries to enter the light. He checks himself – notices blood on his hands and stains on his shirt. He tries in vain to wipe away the blood and cover the stains. Failing to cleanse himself – he speaks.)

NAT: It’s light here. Light is supposed to make us see, but do we all see the same thing – the same way?  What do you see when you look at me? What do I see when I look at myself?  . . . (looking at his hands))  This is blood! This is their blood . .     (as he tries to wipe his hands clean) Am I a madman? Am I evil? Am I a butcher – a murderer?      (pauses for an answer, then continues)I’ve been called these things and more because of the events which occurred back – (motions to the dark area from where he came)there, in Southampton County, Virginia – in August,1831.  There was a slave rebellion -and I, Nat Turner – was the leader.


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  • Metropolitan Community College Longview, 24th- 26th February 2022

    Metropolitan Community College Longview,

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  • MCC Longview Cultural Arts Center Theatre, 24-26 Feb 2022

    nat turner's last struggle play production

    MCC Longview’s Black History Month show, Nat Turner’s Last Struggle.

    Thursday, Friday,  Saturday 24-26 February

  • Wayne Theatre, Waynesboro, VA , 2-4 Feb. 2019

    This video was filmed at Wayne Theatre in Waynesboro, Va. on Feb 1, 2019 by Ernest Lowery.

    The Venue on 35th – producer,
    James Cooper – Director,
    Marlon Hargrave – Nat Turner,
    Minerva – Great Mother. Video shows the last 10 minutes before Nat reaches home.

    Minerva as Great Mothernat turner's last struggle -production photo

  • March 10 – March 12, 2017, The Venue on 35th, Norfolk, Virginia

    The Venue on 35th presented the premiere production of Nat’s Last Struggle: Nat Turner Makes His Way Home, written by P. A. Wray. Directed by Venue Artist-in-Residence D.D. Delaney, starring Dijon Macintyre as Nat Turner, and featuring folk artist and musician Minerva as The Great Mother, Wray’s revision imagines Nat, not as a slave, but as an African prince at war with an oppressor. A man inspired by the Bible – who had to kill the serpent and find his way home!

  • Richmond, Va. July 2016.

    Virginia Union University

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