"Here's to the death of the one-man play," toasted playwright John Guare at the top of the meet-and-greet yesterday before the table read of his wonderful, wide-ranging new work, A Free Man of Color. Guare spoke to an excited assembly that included director George C. Wolfe; Lincoln Center staff; Free Man actors and designers; and any other pertinent parties who could fit in to Lincoln Center Theater's large rehearsal room.
Speaking of that space: Fashion Week may be raging all around the Lincoln Center campus right now, but I'd wager that nowhere was the fashion more detailed, more vivid, or more luxurious than in the designs and documentation of costumer Ann Hould-Ward's handicraft that blanketed the walls of the rehearsal room. Hould-Ward took a few minutes to explain the late-18th/early-19th century-inspired costumes in a manner both casual and erudite, and you could just feel the actors thinking "I can't wait to wear that!" and everyone else thinking "I can't wait to see that!"
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Before Hould-Ward took center stage, the group was welcomed by Bernard Gersten, LCT's Executive Producer, and Andre Bishop, LCT's Artistic Director. Gersten said that after the closing ofSouth Pacific on the Beaumont stage, thought was given to mounting another musical but it was decided to do something smaller - an ironic comment given that Free Man has a cast of almost thirty.
Bishop began his remarks by nodding to what is most important in life, or at least in New Orleans, where part of Free Man takes place: he saluted the production stage manager, Gwendolyn M. Gilliam, for the regal spread she arranged for everyone's sustenance. The culinary treats included jambalaya, which I enjoyed sampling and which makes me wonder whether any professional commentator on this production will be able to file a review without using "jumbo" or "jumbalaya" metaphorically.
Bishop also said that he was "thrilled" to have Guare back at LCT, which has previously produced and/or premiered stagings of his Six Degrees of Separation, Chaucer in Rome, and The House of Blue Leaves. Bishop added: "We are also deeply honored to have George Wolfe with us for the first time." Finally, Bishop said that when Free Man was given a workshop at LCT in August, 2009, that "I had an experience I've never had at the end of a reading or workshop presentation. I felt that all of us had participated in something better than we were."
Before the remarks of Hould-Ward and the table reading of the script, Wolfe gave everyone a preview of the set by means of its mini model, whose parts were manipulated with a master puppeteer's dexterity by designer David Rockwell. Actually, Wolfe's informed, lively commentary on this first day was much more encompassing than details about the set, but, since I expect to be citing Wolfe a great deal throughout this Backstage Blog, I hope the reader will forgive me for not including more of his remarks right away.
BRENDAN LEMON is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com