‘Trouble the Water’ explores life of Robert Smalls

LOS ANGELES — From slave to war hero to congressman, Robert Smalls, also called Trouble, is the subject of the play “Trouble the Water,” now having its world premiere at Theatricum Botanicum.

Based on the novel by the same name and freely adapted for the stage by Ellen Geer, the play tells the story of Small’s youth enslaved in South Carolina. During the Civil War, he was part of an enslaved crew on the Confederate ship, the Planter. One night, he commandeered the vessel, picked up his and his crew’s families, and sailed north, where he turned the ship over to the U.S. Navy and won freedom for the 16 people on board.

Gerald C. Rivers, who voiced the audiobook for the historical novel “Trouble the Water,” has performed with Theatricum Botanicum for 27 years. In this piece, he not only portrays the elder Smalls, it’s also his directorial debut with the company. He said it’s high time Smalls’ story got more attention.

“I think this story should have been told a long time ago, and I think any time is the right time to tell the truth,” Rivers said.

”Trouble the Water” runs at Theatricum Botanicum through Oct. 2.