Photo: John Quilty
Playwright Charles Smith faces three challenges in telling the story of John Newton Templeton, the first African-American to attend college in the Midwest, in the 1820s. First, bio-plays are difficult to pull off, as most people's lives don't fit a dramatic arc. Second, idea plays can end up pompous and/or dull. Third, Templeton's life was epic, but theatrical economics require plays to have small casts. Smith mostly overcomes these constraints by choosing an extremely dramatic section of Templeton's life and by giving each of the other two characters--a minister and his wife who take Templeton in--believably different points of view. Despite Smith's skill, however, the play cries out for other characters. Showing Templeton interacting with his classmates and perhaps with friends or a girlfriend would give the play a chance to breathe--and would take the pressure off the other two characters to represent Templeton's whole world. Also, the first act drags. However, the characters are affecting, the discussions are compelling, Smith's writing is compassionate, and Templeton's story horrifies, fascinates, breaks your heart, and inspires, sometimes simultaneously. Sheldon Best as Templeton gives a performance of great delicacy.