Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Free Man of Color

photo: T. Charles Erickson

No one can fault John Guare for being ambitious. His play A Free Man of Color, which has been in gestation for over twenty years, represents not only two decades of work, but a sweeping amalgamation of 200 years of Euro-American history. In doing so, however--and especially in choosing to use restoration comedy as his framing device--Guare has offered his audience moments of beautiful clarity buried within an everest of pomp and circumstance. The main action is centered around the life of Jacques Cornet (Jeffrey Wright, brilliant as usual), the titular emancipated mulatto; unfortunately, the playwright seems unclear as to how the other aspects of the drama--which includes Thomas Jefferson and Touissant L'Ouverture, Napoleon and Josephine Bonaparte, and the melding of racial impropriety--fit into Cornet's journey towards self-discovery and a realization of the changing times. Wright gives a mammoth, herculean performance (I spent much of the performance imagining which Shakespearean heroes I'd love to see him play), and the supporting cast (featuring Mos Def, John McMartin, Paul Dano, and the wonderful newcomer Nicole Beharie) do uniformly fine work. Unfortunately, though, there is nothing that can be done to make Guare's divergent strands of plot coalesce. Like the world of opulence it portrays, the play is alluring but ultimately hollow.

(Seen at the matinee on November 26. TDF tickets; Orchestra Row F)

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