I have seen many wonderful plays in the past several weeks, but none have been staged as imaginatively as FREIGHT! Kudos to Woodie King, Jr.’s New Federal Theatre in association with Castillo Theatre!
FREIGHT: The Five Incarnations of Abel Green is a fascinating journey through five incarnations of a man named Abel Green brilliantly played by J. Alphonse Nicholson. We travel with Abel through time and space across centuries as he inhabits, sometimes simultaneously, many lives as a Black man, from a 19th Century minstrel to a 21st Century securities trader. In each life, Abel is guided, distracted, helped or hindered by a handful of characters with whom his destiny is forever intertwined. Our journey with him begins on a freight train, hence the title FREIGHT. While his journeys include a train of some kind, the metaphorical rails along which he travels could symbolize DNA itself, the structure of which resembles a ladder or surprise! Rail Road tracks! With every twist and turn along the chromosomal ladder comes another encounter with his own and others’ destined paths. FREIGHT also implies the baggage we carry from one incarnation to the next. It is stuff carried along on the rails of life or perhaps the genetic memories stored in our chromosomes. FREIGHT as an amalgamation of memories and biology takes on a surreal quality aptly explored not only by Howard L. Craft, but made more tangible by the imaginative collaboration of Chris Cumberbatch (Set Design), Eamonn Ferrel (Sound/Projections) Antoinette Tynes (Lighting Design), and Gail Cooper-Hecht (Costumes) as well as other members of FREIGHT’s creative team, all of whom deserve awards for their work on this uniquely inspired production.
HOWARD L. CRAFT: Playwright
Howard L. Craft, recipient of the North Carolina Arts Council Playwriting Fellowship and visiting professor at UNC, Chapel Hill, has “crafted” an ingeniously simple series of worlds that together illustrate a complex narrative of Black people in America. His crisp dialogue reflects popular changes in syntax and values from one era to next. While the opening monologue felt a bit slow with a familiar trope of the black man forced to play the “black faced” minstrel, it quickly evolved beyond the familiar weeping behind the clown persona to something more fascinating.
JOSEPH MEGEL: Director
Joseph Megel (University of North Carolina) deftly translates Craft’s vision by taking full advantage of the collaborative talents of his team of designers and technicians culminating in spectacle, rich in images and sounds as backdrop to the incredible talents of his star performer J. Alphonse Nicholson. In less able hands this show could have potentially become an uneven collection of disconnected scenes full of blackouts leaving the audience wondering what’s happening. But Megel makes the transitions themselves as essential to the performance as the dialogue itself. We watch as Nicholson/Abel dances from one life into another, twisting and turning himself like those DNA strands; at times it even seems like he is swimming in some primordial amniotic fluid about to be birthed again, all the while actually re-setting the scene. Projected behind Nicholson/Abel, we see images evoking aspects of the time/space he’s about to enter.
ONE MAN/ MANY CHARACTERS
J. Alphonse Nicholson has been compared to Daniel Beatty (Emergency, Through The Night, Chapter & Verse) in his ability to embody the many characters that accompany Abel Green in each incarnation. Like Abel Green, these other characters, including a female, also morph into new personalities but all retain basic traits that assist or obstruct Abel’s growth. Nicholson’s versatility as an actor includes dancing and singing as well as demonstrating a vulnerability that evokes empathy from the audience. His portrayal of Abel feels honest and right. We feel Abel’s pain, hurts, disappointments and betrayals from lifetime to lifetime. We are moved with him and hope that he will enjoy better luck next time around.
If any play deserves a stint on Broadway, it’s FREIGHT. Although as a one man play it does not require a huge stage, FREIGHT deserves a huge audience.
FREIGHT: The Five Incarnations of Abel Green was chosen as the critic’s pick for Off-Off Broadway by The New York Times.
Through November 19, 2017
543 West 42nd Street
(Box Office: 212-941-1234)
Public Transportation: Take the A, C, or E to 42nd Street and 8th Avenue or 1,2,3,7, N,Q, R, S to Times Square, then M42 Bus west to 10th or 11th Avenue.