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January 31, 2015

What Black History Month Should Be

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Opening Night: Jeffrey Wright and Mos Def In 'A Free Man of Color'

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Last night, BlackVoices.com attended the opening of Lincoln Center Theater's production of John Guare's new play, 'A Free Man of Color,' directed by George C. Wolfe and starring Tony, Emmy and Golden Globe Award-winning actor Jeffrey Wright and rapper Mos Def.

The cast also 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, Teyonnah Parris, Postell Pringle, Esau Pritchett, Brian Reddy, Reg Rogers, Triney Sandoval, Robert Stanton, Wendy Rich Stetson, Jerome Stigler, Senfaub Stoney and David Emerson Toney.

Notabables in attendance included Ben Stiller, Stockard Channing, S. Epatha Merkerson, Lynn Whitfield, producer Stephen C. Byrd, Andre Harrell, Rosie Perez and the singing group Sweet Honey in the Rock.

'A Free Man of Color,' is a freewheeling epic set in 19th-century New Orleans. Jacques Cornet, the title character (played by 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 that no one, much less this free man of color, realizes is about to splinter the world.

For Wright, who won a Tony Award for his portrayal of a gay nurse forced to take care of a homophobic Roy Cohn as he lay dying from AIDS in Tony Kushner's 1994 award-winning play 'Angels in America,' it's a return to stage after performing with Mos Def in 2002's 'Topdog/Underdog.'

"It's great to be back on stage," he told BlackVoices.com. "

This play has really rekindled my passion for acting because it's such a nightly challenge; it requires my entire focus, so I feel great. John Guare wrote a brilliant piece, and it needed to be fully realized. We were waiting for the right opportunity to do that. Lincoln Center provided an incredible, nurturing environment to allow that to happen."

Both Wright and Mos Def talked about their fondness for one another and about making sure the show has a meaningful impact.

JW: I love Mos, and it's easier than 'Topdog' because in that play he was my brother and in this play, he's my slave. That makes for an easier dynamic. As for the show, we are all inspired to be free people of color, so I don't think there's anything more that needs to be said. This is a play about who we are as Americans and as African Americans. It's a play that wraps its arms around the complexity of our history, our past and our present, so folks should come to see it.

Mos Def: Jeffrey's a friend, a mentor and a good guy. Doing the play is challenging, but very rewarding. I hope it's as rewarding for the audience as it is for the company.

Nicole Beharie

Joseph Marcell, Wendy Rich Stetson & David Emerson Toney

Peter Bartlett, Justina Machado & John Guare

George C. Wolfe & Rosie Perez

Jerome Stigler, Reg Rogers & Derric Harris

Esau Pritchett & wife

Lynn Whitfield and Stephen C. Byrd, producer of 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof'

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