On the “Other” Broadway: “A Free Man of Color”

A Free Man of Color, by John Guare, now at Lincoln Center Theater in New York City

While everyone else headed to Broadway at Times Square to snag tickets to Spiderman, I took a stroll over to “my” Broadway, the part of Broadway that houses Lincoln Center. There I saw John Guare’s new play, A Free Man of Color. Reviews have been mixed, but I will tell you that I enjoyed it tremendously.

This is intelligent theater,  written by Guare, best known for The House of Blue Leaves and Six Degrees of Separation. The play has been brought to the stage by the incomparable George C Wolfe, former artistic director of the Public Theater in New York.  Jeffrey Wright has the lead role, as the “free man of color,” Jacques Cornet, although the production’s publicity probably stems more from the casting of Mos Def as Cornet’s slave, Murmur.

Guare uses the form of classic, bawdy Restoration Comedy to tell us the story of the rise and fall of Cornet (and the “Free People of Color” who dominated and defined colonial New Orleans,) as the Louisiana Purchase ushers in American government and the poison of slavery and racial laws. As we move through the dramatic and historical narrative, we meet Napoleon and Josephine, Haitian slave revolt leader Toussaint L’Ouverture, soon to be wilderness explorer Meriwether Lewis, and Thomas Jefferson, here seen as both democratic visionary and slaveholder/slavery apologist. Strutting throughout is the ribald and foppish Cornet, keeping the tone raucus, or at least lighthearted, until the tragic and sobering ending.

Mos Def, performing in "A Free Man of Color"

The staging, like the play itself, is colorful, and there are some really interesting touches, such as a flotilla of ships that traverses the stage as a set of headdresses.

The Vivian Beaumont at Lincoln Center is a well-designed theater, with comfortable seats and good sight lines, so you can have a great experience there without spending top dollar. So, whatever your budget, get yourself a ticket to A Free Man of Color, now on “the other Broadway,” for an unlimited run.

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