Recipient of the 2004 Jeff Award for Best New Work, Free Man of Color is the story of John Newton Templeton, an ex-slave who attended Ohio University and graduated in 1828, thirty-five years before the end of slavery. Production venues include The Colony Theatre in Burbank, CA.; Penguin Rep in Stony Point, NY; Off-Broadway by Penguin Rep in Association with Chase Mishkin, 59E59, New York; and Independent Theatre, Adelaide, South Australia. It has been published by Dramatic Publishing and Northwestern Press.
When John Newton Templeton is unexpectedly freed after his master’s death, he migrates to the free state of Ohio where he meets the Presbyterian minister Robert Wilson, an avowed abolitionist. Wilson, who had taken on the challenge of serving as president of the then fledging Ohio University, saw the opportunity to use the promising young ex-slave to prove to the pro-slavery factions in America that African-Americans were capable of the same academic excellence as whites. President Wilson brings Templeton to his home in Athens, Ohio where Templeton works as the president’s personal “student servant” while attending classes. Although Templeton excels in most areas of study, his achievements in other areas are quite different than what Wilson had wanted, needed, and expected. In this play about race, culture, and the differences between education and assimilation in America, Wilson is forced to reevaluate his abolitionist views and Templeton is forced to examine the reason he was chosen to be the “first.”
Free Man of Color was commissioned by Ohio University in commemoration of its Bicentennial Celebration. It received its world premiere production at Victory Gardens Theater in Chicago in January 2004. In March of 2004, that production was moved to Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, to commemorate Ohio University’s Bicentennial.
“… bold and striking new work …”
“Good for Smith. He’s an independent, strong-minded writer able to craft traditionally plotted plays that draw audiences into their stories, but then refuses to retreat from unsentimental resolutions.”
“It is to the credit of both Smith and the actors that these characters emerge with the kind of flesh-and-blood fury that often elude history plays. But then this is a deeply intriguing play, and one well worth contemplating.”
Chicago Daily Herald
“… a highly charged mediation on race, freedom and responsibility …”
“… Templeton is a complex human being struggling with competing moral obligations of gratitude and principle, with individual morality and collective responsibility. Andrea J. Dymond’s staging highlights the play’s exquisite craftsmanship …”
“… Free Man of Color is another gem by the wonderful Charles Smith.”
“Brilliant theatre reaches us through the magic of the live stage to get us thinking about who we are by showing us who we were and were we came from. The issues of 1824 Ohio are still relevant in the American of 2004, thus Free Man of Color’s importance reigns.”
“The hows and whys of his story are fascinating, and playwright Charles Smith hones close to a sparks-a-flyin’ Platonic dialogue method where every philosophical conundrum is debated with elegance and rational intelligence and plenty of passion.”
Cast requirements: 2 men, 1 woman
Set requirements: Unit Set, one location
Approximate running time: 2 hours