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Review Roundup: A FREE MAN OF COLOR

By: Nov. 19, 2010
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The Lincoln Center Theater production of John Guare's new play, A FREE MAN OF COLOR, directed by George C. Wolfe, opened tonight (Thursday, November 18) at 6:45pm at the Vivian Beaumont Theater. The cast features Yao Ababio, Peter Bartlett, Nicole Beharie, Arnie Burton, Rosal Colón, Veanne Cox, Paul Dano, Sara Gettelfinger, Derric Harris, Justina Machado, Joseph Marcell, John McMartin, Nick Mennell, Mos, Teyonnah Parris, Postell Pringle, Esau Pritchett, Brian Reddy, Reg Rogers, Triney Sandoval, Robert Stanton, Wendy Rich Stetson, Jerome Stigler, Senfaub Stoney, David Emerson Toney and Jeffrey Wright.

A FREE MAN OF COLOR is a free
wheeling epic set in 1801 New Orleans. Jacques Cornet, the title character (played by Tony, Emmy and Golden Globe Award-winning actor
Jeffrey Wright), is a new world Don Juan and the wealthiest inhabitant of this sexually charged and racially progressive city. Jacques thinks all is well in his paradise until history intervenes, setting off a chain of events which no one, much less this free man of color, realizes is about to splinter the world.

Ben Brantley, NY Times: Eclecticism has always been essential to Mr. Guare's writing, which at its best juggles mismatched elements of culture, high and low, with daring and dizzying skill. This is the man who memorably combined tabloid prurience (and famous-name dropping) with classic poetic lyricism... But here, in his first new play on Broadway in 18 years, he seems less to be juggling than tossing bright balls of allusion and information onto the stage and praying that they'll land in a coherent pattern.

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: But the visual embellishments only add another layer of self-indulgence to a play already far too intoxicated with its own cleverness in juggling heady historical rumination with low comedy. The sober reflections on America's national character come too late and too abruptly to resonate fully.

Linda Winer, Newsday: Somewhere very far away - as far, say, as the final 15 minutes - "A Free Man of Color" becomes an important play. Finally, after 2 ½ hours of brain-blurring historical asides, strenuously costumed artifice and luxuriously overpopulated incoherence, the point and resonance of this crazy-ambitious collaboration between playwright John Guare and director George C. Wolfe fall deeply into place.

Michael Sommers, NJ Newsroom: Wright furiously tears around as the flamboyant Jacques. Subtly depicting the fop's long-suffering servant Murmur, Mos also blazes for a bit as the fiery Toussaint. John McMartin wryly portrays a pragmatic Jefferson. Reg Rogers is very funny whether as Jacques' vengeful half-brother or the oily French diplomat Talleyrand. Veanne Cox and Peter Bartlett comically contrast as aristocratic refugees upset by New Orleans' raffish society while Nicole Beharie is winsome as a spunky country girl who soon comes to love it. Paul Dano, Nick Mennell and Arnie Burton brightly materialize as various personages.

Terry Teachout, Wall Street Journal: If neatness is what you expect from John Guare's "A Free Man of Color," you'll be doomed to disappointment. Mr. Guare's ambitious new play, which tells the fantastic tale of Jacques Cornet (Jeffrey Wright), a 19th-century millionaire playboy from New Orleans who happens to be black, has a cast of 33 and runs for 2½ crowded hours. Yes, it sprawls, but for all its hectic messiness, "A Free Man of Color" is one of the three or four most stirring new plays I've seen since I started writing this column seven years ago.

Mark Kennedy, Associated Press: The playwright's ambition cannot be denied: It is a geographically sprawling, frantic affair set primarily in New Orleans about the chaotic years at the turn of the 19th century as the Great Powers squabbled and swapped land at a whim. Fictional characters are mixed with historical giants.

Joe Dziemianowicz, NY Daily News: You can't say John Guare's new play "A Free Man of Color" isn't ambitious in scope or awash in extravagant eye candy. Or that the huge cast of 33 isn't fully committed. But unfortunately that doesn't add up to a satisfying evening.

Elisabeth Vincentelli, NY Post: A spectacular folly has just crash-landed at Lincoln Cen ter Theater. Eight years in the making, John Guare's latest play, "A Free Man of Color," is an ambitious, awkward, fascinating, lumbering endeavor about the mapping of America's modern physical, social and racial borders. Most of the show, directed by George C. Wolfe, is a maddening slog. But the last 30 minutes are so brilliant that you can't dismiss the whole thing.

Robert Feldberg, NorthJersey.com: I suspect that "A Free Man of Color" was a lot more fun to write than it is to watch.

David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter: While the thematic expansiveness of John Guare's first new Broadway play in 18 years is audacious, George C. Wolfe's extravagant staging and Jeffrey Wright's mannered lead performance make an overstuffed work even heavier.

Marnie Hanel, Vanity Fair: Despite the production's clever direction, gorgeous costumes, inventive sets, and skilled cast, it's a toughy. With an original run time of five and a half hours (now coming in at three), one can imagine director George C. Wolfe's trimming Guare's script as a tailor would Cornet's jacket. But there's only so much one can do when given too much fabric.


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