There’s no doubt that Sam Houston was one of the most important figures in Texas history. The Virginia-born soldier and politician spent time with the Cherokee Nation, served as governor of Tennessee, won a great victory at the Battle of San Jacinto and, as governor of Texas, declined to swear loyalty to the Confederacy. Shortly thereafter he retired to Huntsville, where he was ostracized and died before the end of the War Between the States.
Houston’s life was so consequential, in fact, with so many compelling twists and turns, that prize-winning playwright Aaron Loeb penned “The Trials of Sam Houston” about Houston’s colorful life. Loeb’s work had its world premiere at Dallas’ Kalita Humphreys Theater from Friday, April 20, to Sunday, May 13, under the direction of Dallas Theater Center Enloe/Rose Artistic Director Kevin Moriarty.
Loeb’s play was also the focal point of the DTC Guild‘s 2018 Salon, held April 30 at The Bush Institute at the George W. Bush Presidential Center. The evening included a reception in Cross Hall and a seated dinner in the Hall of State before concluding with a discussion of the play in the Auditorium. Houston’s era was much in evidence throughout the event. It started at the reception, where guests including Annette and James Hansen Prince, Gregory Patterson, Bess and Ted Enloe, Deedie Rose, Nick Even and Shannon and Ted Skokos chatted while “authentic music of 19th century Texas” was played skillfully by the Godfrey Foundation, featuring Kent Hargett and Michael Martin.
Houston’s era even marked the evening’s dinner menu, which featured “Early Texas Cuisine” including Cherokee Sweet Corn Soup, Huntsville Triple Dipped Fried Chicken with Cream Gravy, and Margaret Houston’s White Cake with Lemon Curd (or an East Texas Pecan Tart). Among those enjoying the excellent meal were Florence Cox, Lynn and Allan McBee, Kersten Rettig and Clark Knippers, Tiffany Divis, Lisa Cooley, Stephanie and Robert Haley (they were the event co-chairs) and Harlan Crow. Harlan, who’s on the Bush Institute board and was the guest of Julie Hersh, thanked everyone for coming but kept his remarks very brief—just like he said Ted Enloe told him to.
Following dinner, the group repaired to the Auditorium for an in-depth discussion of the play moderated by Moriarty. Members of the panel were Dr. Randolph “Mike” Campbell, a renowned Texas historian; another Texas historian named John Crain, of the Summerlee Foundation; Loeb, the playwright; and Charles Robinson, an acclaimed actor who played Jeff Hamilton—Houston’s slave and, later, his office clerk—in “The Trials of Sam Houston.” (You might remember Robinson as court clerk “Mac Robinson” in the long-running NBC-TV sitcom, “Night Court.”)
Hamilton is a central character in the play, because it’s essentially told through his recollections. Asked during the discussion to describe his process in tackling the part, Robinson said, “I started going a little crazy at the beginning, because there were [a bunch] of rewrites. … I learned so much about myself doing it, though. It was a beautiful experience for me.” And what did he think of Sam Houston, the man? “He was very, very complicated,” Robinson said.