photo: Ann Marsden
The story, about an industrious slave in the pre-Civil War South whose talent as a horse jockey seems to offer him a path to freedom, might have made for a dry docudrama of the "theatre that is good for you" variety. But instead the play, written by Carlyle Brown, is lively and absorbing and the production, with an exceptional cast directed by Marion McClinton who is best known for staging August Wilson, is a crowd-pleaser. We get caught up immediately in the relationship between Simon (Gavin Lawrence) and his slaveholder (Chris Mulkey) - the two seem to have a disarming respect for each other borne of each seeing opportunity in the other. When slave outwits slaveholder in one of the play's earliest scenes, it's taken in the spirit of sportsmanship, and we get a kick out of Simon, emboldened by the value of his talent, daring to buck the social norms of the times. The play's more comical first act, which is largely defined by Simon's ambitious, aggressive personality, gives way to a more serious second act in which Simon's wife Caroline (Christiana Clark) takes our dramatic focus. While it captures a specific, uniquely challenging and infrequently dramatized time in African American history, the play ponders some of the ironies of what was considered "freedom".