A pleasant surprise was birthed at the Black Box this past weekend with a two-act play, Free Man of Color, written by Charles Smith. The play portrays a segment of the true life story of John Newton Templeton, who was a “liberated” slave; one of the first ten African Americans to graduate from Ohio University in 1828, 35 years before slaves became emancipated.
Nothing was spared in this rendition Charles Smiths’ production. Directed wonderfully by skilled veteran, Mary K. Hodges Nees, the three-person cast delivered a thought-provoking performance paired with a delicate balance of race, gender, and class in the 1800’s. As we look currently into race relations today, the play begs the question -- is there true freedom for a man of color?
Not a novice to the stage, Rahman Shareef successfully embodies John as a true debater – a highly educated young man draped in confidence. He accepts an opportunity to study at the university from the very statuesque (almost Lincoln look alike), Reverend Robert G. Wilson, played well by Jeff Boerger. Rev. Boerger, who is also President of the university, skillfully convinces John to become a “student servant” at his home, while studying at OU. He is further encouraged to migrate to Liberia, in the hopes to save “his” people and create a home for freed African Americans. This strategy manufactured by, American Colonization Society (ACS), is highly politicized. Yet, Rev. Boerger feels that John could be the “Moses” for his people to return to their “promised land”. A continuous debate of the “Will of God vs. Will of Slave Owner” becomes the foci of their dialogue in Act II. As John comes to know Rev. Boerger’s wife, Jane Wilson, brilliantly played by Mara McGill, you can’t help but be exasperated by her vile, antagonistically racially charged comments and political/cultural debates with John. However, you quickly find yourself in Act II, partially empathetic to her feminist exploration. She is not able to ride horses, attend a university or even to vote. There is no glass ceiling to be broken. She not only has a disdain for White males, but she is in fact jealous of the free man of color and envious of John.
Being passionate about multimedia effects, I was pleased to see their use during scene changes and narration. Costume design created by Kris Maier was well crafted, most especially for Jane Wilson, who was adorned with the delicate head scarves and ornate dresses, down to her braided tresses along her face. Set design, prop, and prop dressing was tastefully created by Bob Nees, Ray and Melody Teodoro-Kurtis, which captured the 1800’s time period in functionality, color scheme and blocking within the quaint and intimate setting of the Black box.
Beware, the production does contain racially intense and derogatory language, but recommended for ages 13 and up and can be used as sincere teachable moments. Take the time to view this hidden treasure which continues next weekend 3/7 – 3/9 – 8pm Friday, 8pm Saturday and 2pm Sunday. Prices $12, $10 for seniors or students.
www.riverwalktheatre.com482-5700 - general seating but reservations assure admission to this small (80-seat) venue.