“HOW to Raise a Freeman”: McCarter Theater and Bard at the Gate present a pre-recorded video of “How to Raise a Freeman” by Zakiyyah Alexander. Directed by Reginald L. Douglas, the video is available through McCarter’s website. Above: Keith (Malcolm Barrett, top), Dean (Jamie Lincoln Smith, middle left) and Greg (Francois Battiste, middle right) teach Marcus (Aric Floyd, bottom) some lessons he will not learn at school. (Digital image courtesy of ViDCo)
By Donald H. Sanborn III
McCarter presents How to raise a free man online since november 3. The theater’s website describes Zakiyyah Alexander’s play as a “dark comedy that asks how a middle-class African-American family can keep their son alive in a world where every 28 hours a black man is forcibly killed. of the order. “
The pre-filmed production is a collaboration between McCarter and Bard at the Gate. Founded by Paula Vogel, Bard at the Gate is “designed to become a widely accessible platform for pieces powerful and overlooked by BIPOC, women, LGBTQ and artists with disabilities,” according to the series’ website.
How to raise a free man opens the second season of Bard at the Gate. The Conservatives are Vogel; McCarter Associate Artistic Director Nicole A. Watson; and the Bard’s Advisory Council at the door. The Princeton Public Library is hosting a series of Bard at the Gate Watch parties, the first of which took place on November 4.
Alexander is an award-winning writer whose other works include plays 10 things to do before you die, the etymology of Bird, and the musical girl shakes loose. His television credits include 24: Legacy, Grey’s Anatomy, and Hunters. A graduate of the Yale School of Drama, Alexander is a co-founder of the Killroys, an organization that focuses on parity in American theater.
Previously How to raise a free man has had workshop presentations at venues such as Playwrights Horizons and Center Theater Group. In 2017, it was performed at the Ammunition Theater in Los Angeles. But in a live chat online, Alexander describes the experience with McCarter and Bard at the Gate as “probably the longest I’ve spent with actors working on it, since I wrote it.”
The conversation took place on November 3 and can be viewed on McCarter’s website (mccarter.org). Moderated by Watson, the panel included Alexander and director Reginald L. Douglas, as well as Luis Alfaro, a playwright.
In How to raise a free man Denise, a real estate agent (played by Michelle Wilson) and Keith, a businessman (Malcolm Barrett) wonder how best to prepare their son, Marcus, for the future. (Marcus is played by Aric Floyd, who previously played the role in the Ammunition Theater production.)
Alexander wanted to tell a “black story of the middle class … where there is enough food on the table, where everyone is loved.”.“She adds that she wanted to stage a family dynamic in which” a grandmother is not part of the play “.
McCarter website describes How to raise a free man in response to that of Lorraine Hansberry A raisin in the sun. Alexander’s remark about a grandmother character could be interpreted as part of this response. The 1959 Hansberry drama depicts a family dynamic in which a grandmother is the matriarch.
A real estate purchase is important to the plot of both pieces, but Alexander deviates from Hansberry’s resolve of this arc. Alexander explains that she wants to explore “What happens when the configuration we saw before is reversed.”
We see Marcus enjoying his favorite hobby – video games – where he met an online friend, Travis (Ben Horwitz). Keith walks in and insists on watching the news, and the family see a report about a young African American who has been shot and killed by police.
Marcus is an excellent student at the private school he attends, but Keith fears that academic achievement may not be enough to prepare Marcus to survive in a culture in which racial profiling is rampant. After Denise questions Marcus about his lessons and has him practice diction, Keith teaches him how to react if he is confronted by a suspicious officer.
“Sometimes we hear about police brutality like someone else’s story,” Alexander observes. “I thought, ‘This is the world we live in. How can I communicate this in a way that interests people and see it less as a political conversation? “”
Denise helps a client, Joan (Veanne Cox), secure a deal on a property. Complications arise when the current owner – who is represented by another real estate agent, Neil (François Battiste) – places a special condition on the sale. During a meeting, Denise awkwardly tries to stop Joan from making damaging comments.
Discussing the comic elements of the play, Alexander remarks, “I’m a satirist and my goal is to make you laugh… I don’t see it coming! ”
She adds, “The only way for me to personally feel an emotion for a story is if I haven’t been able to solve the riddle beforehand.”
Keith plays poker with his brother, Dean (Jamie Lincoln Smith), and his friend, Greg (Battiste), who share Keith’s concern that Marcus isn’t bothered enough by police brutality. The three older men are determined to make Marcus understand the dangers he might face in a world outside of school and video games.
Watson asks Douglas – who says his previous experience has been exclusively as a director – about the process of directing the play for an online production rather than on stage, he replies that during the pandemic he had to trying to ‘play on different mediums, and find the similarities, the synergies – but also embrace the wild differences.
In addition to the cast and script by Alexander – which Douglas describes as “handsome” – the director appreciates the production design possibilities offered by ViDCo, who is responsible for editing and video. Visual effects include juxtaposing the cast against the flicker of a television.
But Douglas says the production “at heart, was a staged reading of a play.” He adds: “The big lesson this year has been to try to embrace the new, but also to stay dedicated to what has not changed, which is the power to story to enlighten and entertain an audience.
After watching the production in the privacy of his apartment, Alfaro reflects on his reactions to the play and observes a possible difference in how the audience might react to a live performance versus a video production. “It really tore me apart,” he reveals, adding that if he had seen the play in the theater, he might have been “stoic” because of his refusal to share his emotional response. Alfaro remarks that the theater is “dangerous – and it should be!” “
Alexander thinks she wrote How to raise a free man “Five or six years ago, and I was like, ‘I wonder if this won’t be happening soon.’ I think perhaps the most horrible thing is that it looks like it will always work. “
She adds that because of the subject, “I wish this was a dated piece.”
How to raise a free man is available for viewing online “until further notice”. For tickets, more information, or to watch the post-show talk, visit mccarter.org/tickets-events/bard-at-the-gate/How-to-Raise-a-Freeman. Princeton Public Library’s next Bard at the Gate Watch Party is December 2.