"Free Man of Color" will have its Cleveland premiere at NDC.

Notre Dame Hosts “Free Man of Color”

Notre Dame College, in collaboration with Ensemble Theatre, will host 12 performances of Charles Smith’s “Free Man of Color,” a historical drama about Ohio’s first African American college graduate, in the Performing Arts Center from Feb. 10 to Feb. 27.

Directed by Tony Sias, “Free Man of Color” continues Ensemble Theatre’s critically acclaimed 31st consecutive season in the tradition of its “Panorama of African American Theatre: Firsts” series. Recipient of the prestigious 2004 Jeff Award for Best New Work, and what the Chicago Tribune called a “bold and striking new work,” the historical drama celebrates John Newton Templeton, Ohio’s first African American college graduate in 1828.

In this play about race, culture and the differences between education and assimilation in America, Presbyterian minister Robert Wilson, the third president of Ohio University, is convinced that Templeton has a divine calling to lead free blacks in a free and sovereign nation of their own. He sets out to train Templeton for the task of building a new colony called Liberia. As graduation nears, Templeton is forced to confront the encroaching realization of what founding a colony of free blacks in Africa would mean to blacks in America and what it really means to be a free man of color.

Premiere: "Free Man of Color" is the Cleveland premiere of playwright Charles Smith.
Premiere: "Free Man of Color" is the Cleveland debut of playwright Charles Smith.

“Free Man of Color” is the Cleveland premiere of playwright Charles Smith, the head of the Professional Playwriting Program at Ohio University. A recipient of the 2008 Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award, he is also a member of the Playwrights Ensemble at the Tony Award-winning Victory Gardens Theater in Chicago, and an alumnus playwright of the Tony Award-winning New Dramatists in New York. Smith will give a talk back and greet the general public after the Feb. 19 performance.

Tony Sias returns to Ensemble Theatre for the first time as a director, after having starred as Paul Robeson in the critically acclaimed Ensemble production “Robeson”. Sias is director of arts education for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. Cleveland audiences will recognize his direction from past area productions including “In the Continuum,” “Dreamgirls,” and “Guys and Dolls.”

The cast of “Free Man of Color” includes well-known professional Cleveland actors Jeffrey Grover as Robert Wilson and Diane Mull as his wife Jane, and introduces recent Case Western Reserve University graduate Antuane Rogers as John Newton Templeton. Notre Dame College students will be involved in various capacities as well.

“This is a very exciting opportunity for some of our students to work with a professional company and be involved as stage managers and understudies, as well as working on the crew and running performances,” said Jacqi Loewy, assistant professor of communication and theatre.

“Free Man of Color” opens Thursday, Feb. 10, at 7:30 p.m., and will run through Feb. 27 on Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. For tickets, call 216.321.2930 or purchase online at www.ensemble-theatre.org.

On Sunday, Feb. 20, at 7 p.m., there will be a special performance for the Ebony Bobcat Network, the African American alumni of Ohio University, who are also invited to a pre-show reception with the playwright and actors in the College’s Great Room.

Also, save the date for a Notre Dame College production of Edgar Lee Masters' “Spoon River Anthology,” to be performed in the Regina Auditorium from April 14 to 17.

Notre Dame College is located at 4545 College Road in South Euclid. For further information contact Jacqi Loewy, assistant professor of communication and theatre, at 216.373.5189 or jloewy@ndc.edu.