Chris Dixon stars as Harriet Tubman in “Keeping the Light: The Story of the Bravery, Heroism and Courage of African American Lighthouse Keepers and Lifesaving Service” at Santa Barbara Maritime Museum. | Credit: Kristopher Johnson

What better way to celebrate Black History Month (and the anniversary of the lighting of the Point Conception Lighthouse on February 1, 1856) than an inspired one-woman theatrical presentation by actress Christine Dixon, who has spent the last decade portraying Harriet Tubman. This performance at the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum, called Keeping the Light, gave audiences a fascinating look at the life of a true American hero — with a passionate leading lady weaving the sometimes joyous, oftentimes ugly tale of Tubman’s life in antebellum America.

Dixon is an effervescent personality who channels her vitality into creating the deep rage and despair of Tubman’s story, a history lesson of the brutal treatment of the African American race. Despite the barbarism themes in her story, Tubman cannot, and will not be demoralized from her duty to shepherd her people to freedom. This performance is a portrait of strength and defiance, illustrated most effectively in Dixon’s booming voice singing slave spirituals. There’s a ripple of sassiness in Tubman’s character, as well, but as Dixon points out in her post-show question-and-answer session, Tubman isn’t all business all the time: “She was funny. She had a great sense of humor.”

In this special presentation, Dixon also incorporates stories of the Black men and women who, often nameless in history, acted as lighthouse keepers. The show is interactive, involving numerous audience members who stand in as various characters in Tubman’s story, which infuses humor and heart into the performance. It’s easy to see how Dixon has turned her original four-show contract into ten years of performances: her treatment of the character and subject matter is honest, reverent, and totally engaging.

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