Runs through 7.3.10
59E59 Theatres, 59 East 59th Street
by Ben Charles on 6.17.10
BOTTOM LINE: Sharp acting leads the way for this fantastic period piece about what one says and what one really means during an intriguing part of American History.
Freed is an excellent show. The play is very well-written and it’s exciting to watch the actors deliver each scene. Freed is set during 1824-1828 and revolves around John Newton Templeton, a freed slave who has enrolled to become the first black student at Ohio University. The Reverend Robert Wilson, impressed by John’s potential, brought Templeton to the University. John faces his own challenges with this decision and often turns to the Reverend for answers. One scene that is particularly fascinating revolves around why the other students would bunk with John.
It is quite intriguing to see how these characters behave during this period. Since this is really a period piece, it comes with its own challenges of the time. Christopher McCann plays Reverend Wilson, who does a great deal of his own politicking; McCann does a fantastic job capturing Wilson's high status while speaking rational, yet stunning, statements. Emma O’Donnell plays Jane Wilson, Robert’s oppressed wife. Her own struggle of just being a woman of the time is heartbreaking to watch, and one that is excellently communicated by O’Donnell.
Of course, the main struggle of the show is for John Newton Thompson. Everything is a challenge for Thompson, but it is fascinating to see how he finds his own independence and self-respect amidst the issues surrounding him. It actually makes one think a bit about what it means to be an American and a free person in society today. The simple ability to be paid for one's own work, for example, might be something we take for granted. As for Thompson, excellently played by Sheldon Best, it is endearing to see him rise above the muck that surrounds him.
The staging, costumes and lighting deserve a special nod. The detailed costumes sell the reality of the period, while the very simple stage allows director Joe Brancato to play with a number of staging options. The lighting design accents the scenes well, painting the stage in some very cool colors.
Freed pays off its first act with an intense second act. One of my favorite scenes is one in which John and Jane discuss what rights they really have. Playwright Charles Smith brings out some powerful symbols that connected with me and helped bring the characters' struggle to a human level.
Again, this is an excellent play. I highly recommend Freed and my hat is off to the entire production team. Especially if you have any interest in the subject matter or the basic storyline, then go see Freed; you won’t be let down.
(Freed plays at 59E59 Theaters, at 59 East 59th Street, through July 3rd. Performances are Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7pm, Thursdays and Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 2pm and 8pm, and Sundays at 3pm. Tickets are $35 and can be reserved by calling 212-279-4200 or online at www.ticketcentral.com. Discount tickets (2 for 1) can be purchased using code FREED241 at Ticket Central. For more information visit www.59E59.org.)