"Sex and food and music, baby, that's what New Orleans is all about," Louis Armstrong once said. At last night's opening of A Free Man of Color, there was plenty of carnality on the stage, in the spectacular personage of Jacques Cornet, played by Jeffrey Wright. And there was evocative music, provided by composer Jeanine Tesori.
As for the food, there were hints of it during the performance: the Infanta, played by Rosal Colon, knawed on a chicken leg; Thomas Jefferson, played by John McMartin, rattled off a list of items he craved for a White House dinner party: "turkey, chicken fricassee, mutton chops, ham, fried eggs, parsnips, oysters, veal knuckles, beef tongues, that pie called Macaroni." This menu, insisted Jefferson, comprised "a light repast."
The buffet at the opening night party, held in the votive-lit hallows of Avery Fisher Hall, could not be called light; merely delicious. Taking up the play's New Orleans theme, the fixings included macaroni and cheese (did Jefferson's pie have cheese?) and parmesan grits.
I noticed Ben Stiller, one of the guests, eyeing the spread longingly. When I asked him about the play, he replied: "Beautiful." (Stiller will be starring in the Broadway revival this spring of John Guare's The House of Blue Leaves, to be directed by David Cromer, who was also at the A Free Man of Colorsoiree.)
The evening's guest list resembled New Orleans in its variety (Stockard Channing, Rosie Perez, Lynn Whitfield, S. Epatha Merkerson, Tony Kushner) but also gave off a uniquely Manhattan glow: Laurie Anderson, Mary Rodgers, and She Without Whom A New York Opening Is Unofficial: Marian Seldes. At least one luminary, Wynton Marsalis, combined northern and southern urban flavors into something especially bright: New Yor-leans.
In A Free Man Of Color, sartorial primacy resides in the person of Jacques Cornet. At the opening-night party, Jacques - aka Jeffrey Wright - had some serious competition, especially among the men: Mos, whose final exit in the play moves me more each time I witness it, was resplendent in bow tie. And several of the actors were rocking tweedish headgear: Yao Ababio, Postell Pringle, and Esau Pritchett. Hats off to them - and to everyone else connected to this glowing opening night!
Brendan Lemon is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com.