Section: Arts

Comedy, history blend in KCDC’s A Free Man of Color

Comedy, history blend in KCDC’s A Free Man of Color

by Devon Musgrave-Johnson

 

With more than 300 costume pieces, 21 cast members and scenes set in five different locations around the world, A Free Man of Color was a feat of theater production.

Professor of Drama Jonathan Tazewell, who directed the play chose it for its ambitious nature and the political commentary about race and government that it offers in the second act of the show.

“The show is a little deceptive,” Tazewell said. “It is a restoration comedy and it is very funny, wacky and goofy; but it actually packs a little bit of a punch.”

Irish-American playwright John Guare wrote the play in 2009. It focuses on a wealthy man of color named Jacques Cornet living in New Orleans in 1801. The characters in the play must deal with the impending changes as the U.S. purchases the Louisiana territory from France and racial tensions rise.

Tazewell  and Seth Reichert ’17, the stage manager for the production, worked with the rest of the tech crew to make the play as seamless and beautiful as possible. The production proved especially challenging for Reichert, who had never before stage-managed for the Kenyon College Dance and Drama Club (KCDC) and had mainly spent his time working on senior theses.

“With thesis shows, you’re working under the assumption that you can’t do everything the director wants,” Reichert said. “But with Kenyon mainstage, there is a different limit on what can and can’t be done.”

Despite the large scale of the show, Reichert and the rest of the tech crew made the set look beautiful. A large white sheet cascaded down from the rafters, creating a surface for the projections used throughout the show.

The lighting also worked well to highlight individual sections of the stage, allowing the audience to move between France and New Orleans in an instant.

Jibri McLean ’17 had not been in a play since middle school, yet he graced the stage confidently last weekend as Cornet and was able to portray the compexity of his character effortlessly.

From the first lines, the chemistry between the actors was apparent. This was especially true between McLean and Jules Desroches ’18, who played Cornet’s slave, Cupidon Murmur.

All of the actors played their parts well, maintaining the time period of the play and the cultures of their characters by using various accents and mannerisms.

The play was  large in scale, working with a cast of outrageous and hilarious characters, various twists and turns and the history surrounding the Louisiana Purchase along with multiple subplots. With so many moving parts, some audience confusion was bound to occur, even with the experienced and skilled direction of Tazewell.

“I enjoyed myself for the entire play,” Tobias Baumann ’19, who is also a contributing opinions writer for the Collegian, said after watching Thursday night’s show. “It was very ambitious, and it risked being incoherent in the middle, but it came together again by the end.”

By the end of the play, despite whatever confusion there may have been, the social and political commentary about the hypocrisy of government came through to audiences.

Going into this production, Tazewell knew he had chosen a potentially difficult play, especially with such a large cast. “It’s challenging; you’re doing a lot of traffic stuff and that can always be tricky,” Tazewell said. “You have to make sure that the final image on stage looks all right and that everyone is placed well.”

The play succeeded in making the audience laugh, think and learn a little bit about history. Tazewell’s production took on complex and over-saturated source material, and somehow managed to pull it all together to make a play audiences could really enjoy and that highlighted the talent within the Kenyon drama community.

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