POSTED: Sunday, August 12, 2012 - 9:00am
UPDATED: Sunday, August 12, 2012 - 9:04am
BATON ROUGE, LA — Swine Palace opens its 21st season, a celebration of Louisiana’s Bicentennial, with performances of John Guare’s “A Free Man of Color” Sept. 19-30 in the Claude L. Shaver Theater, located in the LSU Music & Dramatic Arts Building.
Directed by Paul Russell, “A Free Man of Color” is an epic comedy of grand scale, featuring a cast of 32 actors. It is also a play that is astonishing, raucous and panoramic, set in the boisterous New Orleans culture that existed just prior to the historic Louisiana Purchase – before law and order took hold; before class, racial and political lines were drawn; and when New Orleans was still a parade of beautiful women and good-looking men, flowing wine and pleasure for the taking.
At the center of this Dionysian world is Jacques Cornet, a swashbuckling entrepreneur, who commands the men, seduces the women, preens like a peacock and cuts a wide swath through the city and the province. It is 1801, and the map of New Orleans is about to be redrawn. The Louisiana Purchase will bring American rule to New Orleans, challenging the chaotic and colorful world of Jacques Cornet and all that he represents. Playing the role of Coronet will be professional actor and master teaching artist and consultant Alvin Keith.
“A Free Man of Color” was first presented in its world premiere by Lincoln Center Theatre in New York, directed by George C. Wolfe and starring Jeffrey Wright and rapper/actor Mos Def. Swine Palace’s production will be the sole location for the play outside of New York.
“Swine Palace pursued this production, as it is a natural complement to our season,” said Kristin Sosnowsky, Swine Palace’s managing director and chair of the LSU Department of Theatre. “And in planning for the show, we hosted John Guare and Paul Russell in the spring to audition and artistically design for the upcoming production. ‘A Free Man of Color’ is a perfect match for the opening of our celebratory Louisiana Bicentennial season, and Swine Palace is the perfect theatre company to produce the regional premiere of this play, which is so distinctly about the history of not only New Orleans, but the effect the Louisiana Purchase had on the developing culture of our state and our country.”
Russell said he feels the production brings to Louisiana’s Bicentennial celebration “a sobering reminder that equality and freedoms can be pawns of commerce, denied, given and/or ignored via the whim of a pen stroke followed by the transfer of currency.”
Admittedly fascinated by history, Russell said he was drawn to the play’s concept of how the Louisiana Purchase changed the lives of all affected.
“The Louisiana Purchase had implications beyond being an opportune commercial territorial expansion of the U.S.,” he said. “A collective’s moment is comprised of multitudes of individual actions and experiences. I’m intrigued by the parts that make the whole. John Guare’s text poignantly pulls back the curtain and invites modern audiences to witness and partake in how individuals crafted or were affected by an event that possessed years of the participants’ lives, but for us, their ancestors, exists as a passing phrase that speeds over our lips while we seek the next distraction.”
Russell said that while directing such a large cast could be seen as a daunting task, he has kept the aim of the production to expressing Guare’s vision.
“John Guare has brilliantly penned a sprawling saga spanning two continents, requiring a colossal cast that would choke many a regional theater comptroller,” he said. “Our challenge is to look beyond such and focus on what really matters: John’s words. My mantra from the start has been to simplify while remaining true to the essence of the colorful and vibrant historical collage John has penned. The design team has been brilliant in delivering solutions to serve both the text and this production.”
Russell is a casting director, director and author. He has nearly 30 years of experience in entertainment that includes film, TV and Broadway. He began his career journey as a successful working actor. As an independent casting director, he has cast for major studios including Twentieth Century Fox, HBO and Warner Brothers, plus casting for New York and regional theater. As a Stage Directors and Choreographers director, Russell has directed at Tony award-winning League of Resident Theatres locations and Off-Broadway productions. He is also presently a faculty member for the NYU-Tisch theater arts program at The Atlantic Theatre Company, teaching audition technique and business of acting. He has also been invited as a guest lecturer on the campuses of America’s finest performing arts schools, including Yale, Elon, Temple University, The University of The Arts, James Madison University and Northeastern University. In addition, Russell is also a contributor to the Back Stage advice column, “Casting Cues.”
Sosnowsky expressed her excitement with Swine Palace presenting “A Free Man of Color” to the people of Louisiana.
“‘A Free Man of Color’ is the kind of grand scale, historically based production that captures audiences’ imaginations with a compelling story, great characters and intricate production design with rich, colorful costumes and an expansive set,” she said. “The show provides us the opportunity to share the history and culture of our great state, to entertain and to touch the hearts of the people of Louisiana.”
Performances of “A Free Man of Color” include a “Pay What You Can” performance on Sept. 19, a Snea Preview performance on Sept. 21 and the official opening night performance on Sept. 21. Regular performances will be held Sept. 22 and Sept. 25-28. Each performance will begin at 7:30 p.m. Matinee performances will be held at 2 p.m. on Sept. 23 and Sept. 30.
Tickets range from $15 to $28, and can be obtained from the LSU Box Office by calling 225-578-3527 or by visiting www.swinepalace.org . Tickets can also be purchased in person at the following box office locations: LSU Union Theatre; Music & Dramatic Arts Building, Dalrymple Drive; and Reilly Theatre, located on Tower Drive. On performance nights, tickets will also be on sale at the Music & Dramatic Arts Box Office. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.