ATHENS, Ohio (March 5, 2004) -- In 1828, 37 years before the end of slavery, a free black man named John Newton Templeton graduated from Ohio University. At the time, University President Robert Wilson was forced to reevaluate his preconceptions, while Templeton was forced to examine why he was chosen to be "the first."
This moment in black history is the subject of acclaimed playwright Charles Smith's new drama "Free Man of Color," an eye-opening exploration of race, culture and the differences between education and assimilation in America. "Free Man of Color" stars Shelley Delaney, Anthony Fleming III and Gary Houston and is directed by Andrea J. Dymond.
The play, which premiered at Victory Gardens Theater in Chicago in January, will be performed at 8 p.m. March 11-13 at Elizabeth Evans Baker Theater in Kantner Hall. A March 10 performance is by invitation only and will begin at 7:30 p.m. Tickets for March 11, 12 and 13 cost $12 for students and seniors, $15 for adults and can be purchased by calling the College of Fine Arts box office at (740) 593-4800.
"The play was a hit and was well-received in Chicago," Smith said. "The last three weeks it ran, tickets were very hard to come by and some of the shows sold out. This play will make the audience think provocatively about many things, including race, gender, culture and education."
The year is 1824. Robert Wilson, third president of Ohio University, brings John Newton Templeton, a young free man, to be the first man of color to attend the college. Although Ohio is a free state, slavery is still the law of the land in much of the country. Wilson speaks to Templeton of the need to identify and educate a man of high moral character to lead free blacks, in a free and sovereign nation of their own - in a new colony called Liberia. Wilson brings Templeton into his home in Athens, where Templeton, unable to be housed with the other students, works as a "student servant" while attending classes. Templeton excels in his studies, but when he learns what it really means to be a free man of color, his achievements are ultimately quite different than Wilson expected.
Smith was born and raised on the south side of Chicago. He is a member of the Victory Gardens Playwrights Ensemble, and head of the Professional Playwriting Program at Ohio University. His plays "Knock Me a Kiss," "The Sutherland," "Freefall," "Jelly Belly," "Cane and Takunda" all premiered at Victory Gardens. His work explores issues surrounding the perceptions of race and politics from an African-American point-of-view, spanning from investigations of historic icons such as Marcus Garvey, W.E.B. Dubois and Alexandre Dumas, to examinations of race and politics in contemporary settings such as the impact of the end of segregation on Chicago's South side.
Smith's work has been produced off-Broadway and at regional theatres around the country including The Acting Company's 22-city tour of his play, "Pudd'nhead Wilson," and productions at Chicago's Goodman Theatre ("Black Star Line"), Indiana Repertory Theatre, People's Light & Theatre Company, Penumbra, St. Louis Black Rep, New Federal Theatre, Seattle Repertory Theatre and Berkeley Repertory Theater. His work has also been produced for the HBO New Writers Project, the International Children's Theater Festival in Seattle and the North Carolina Black Arts Festival. A graduate of the Iowa Playwrights Workshop, Smith has received commissions from Victory Gardens, The Goodman, Seattle Rep, Indiana Rep, The Acting Company and Ohio University. He was a member playwright at Tony Award-winning New Dramatists in New York for seven years. He currently holds the title of Ohio University Presidential Research Scholar in the Arts and Humanities.
Shelley Delaney (Jane Wilson) has extensive regional and New York theater credits. Favorite regional work includes three different productions of "Dancing at Lughnasa" (GeVa, Capital Repertory Theater, Delaware Theater Company), Ophelia in "Hamlet" at Virginia Stage Company, Essie in "You Can't Take It With You" at Bay Street Theatre (directed by Tony Award winner Jack Hofsiss), Hermia in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, Molly in "Smell of the Kill" at Capital Repertory Theater, MJ in "Inspecting Carol" at Delaware Theater Company, Terry in "Side Man" at Stamford Theaterworks and Alexis Vere de Vere in "As Bees in Honey Drown" at Dorset Theater Festival. Others include Tony Award-winning McCarter Theatre, four shows at Two River Theatre Company, George Street Playhouse, Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival and Pennsylvania Stage Company.
Delaney's New York City credits include New York Shakespeare Festival's Plays in Process, Circle Rep Lab, Ensemble Studio Theater, Women in Theater Festival, 78th Street Theatre Lab, The American Living Room series at HERE and Soho Think Tank's Ice Factory at the Ohio Theatre, all in new works. Also a director, Delaney most recently directed "Top Girls" for the Ohio University School of Theater. Film work includes a principal role in Woody Allen's "Radio Days," and several independent films. She is married to director Dennis Lee Delaney.
Anthony Fleming III (John Newton Templeton) is starring in his first lead role. He has appeared in Javon Johnson's "Hambone" and Jeffrey Sweet's "The Action Against Sol Schumann." Most recently, Fleming was seen in three consecutive, critically acclaimed productions: Lookingglass Theatre's "Race, Cut Flowers" at Noble Fool and "The Cider House Rules" for Famous Door Theatre.
Gary Houston (Robert Wilson) has a long and illustrious career in Chicago theater, from creating the role of Roger, the "Mooning King of Rydell High," in the world premiere of the Jim Jacobs-Warren Casey musical "Grease" at Kingston Mines Theatre Company in 1971, to playing Prospero in European Repertory Company's 2001 production of Shakespeare's "The Tempest." A former Chicago Sun-Times editor and reporter, Houston was one of the authors of the play "E/R" (Emergency Room), the basis for the Norman Lear sitcom of the 1980s starring Elliott Gould, and he wrote the play, "Mighty Aphrodite" (no connection with the Woody Allen film) as a companion piece for Terrence McNally's "Sweet Eros," and produced and directed both plays.
Houston directed the highly touted 1977 Chicago premiere of Peter Handke's "Kaspar" at the Goodman Theatre, and also that year, the first production to open in Chicago of the then Highland Park, Illinois-based Steppenwolf Theatre Co. Wallace Shawn's "Our Late Night," with company members Joan Allen, H.E. Bacchus, Moira Harris, Terry Kinney, John Malkovich, Laurie Metcalf and Alan Wilder. Most recently, Houston played dad opposite Erin Neal's daughter in the U.S. premiere of Edna Walsh's "Bedbound" at the Summer Festival of Contemporary Irish Plays produced in Taos, N.M., by the Sage Theatre Group last August, which was remounted in Albuquerque's Fusion Theatre this past February. He also appears in the film version of David Auburn's "Proof," recently shot in Chicago with Anthony Hopkins, Gwyneth Paltrow, Hope Davis and Jake Gyllenhaal. Houston's other feature films include "Fargo," "Hoffa," "Class," and "Brother 2."
Andrea J. Dymond (director), TCG Artistic Fellow at Victory Gardens Theater, made her Victory Gardens directing debut last season with the acclaimed Midwest premiere of Pearl Cleage's "Bourbon at the Border." Before joining Victory Gardens in 2000, she had worked in Chicago theater for nearly 15 years, including as company member for 10 years with American Blues Theater, where she started as Production Stage Manager and served a two-year stint as co-artistic director. She later worked for more than eight years with City Lit Theatre Company, where she adapted and directed numerous staged readings and four fully staged productions; was the administrator of the Black Collective of Theatre Artists for two years, and served six years as an artistic associate.
Dymond's directing credits include "Sunddown Names" and "Night-gone Things" at Chicago Theatre Company; "Triptych and Chameleon" at Pegasus Players' Young Playwrights' Festival; "Blind Faith" for Acme Arts Society, "Monsters II" (in which she directed the world premiere of a short play by David Mamet) and "Monsters III" at American Blues Theatre; "Late Bus to Mecca" for Onyx Theatre Company; "Three Ways Home" for Chicago Actors Ensemble; an adaptation of Alice Walker's novel, "Meridian;" and a hit production of the adaptation of April Sinclair's novel, "Coffee Will Make You Black," both for City Lit Theatre. Dymond also served three years as president of the board of directors of Independent Feature Project/Midwest. She is a screenwriter and essayist and for two years, wrote a column about film and filmmaking for PerformInk, a Chicago arts and entertainment trade paper. Dymond grew up in Shaker Heights, Ohio, and studied political science at Cleveland State University.
For more information on "Free Man of Color," visit the Ohio University Web site at www.ohiou.edu.
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Editors: Pictures from the play in Chicago are available at: