Freight Review – A Timeless and Timely Journey

J. Alphonse Nicholson in FREIGHT - Photo by Jonathan Benavente
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Playwright Howard L. Craft has vividly encapsulated the Black journey through the twentieth century in FREIGHT: THE FIVE INCARNATIONS OF ABEL GREEN. Starring J. Alphonse Nicholson as the solo time-traveler on a train bound for the twenty-first century, FREIGHT poignantly touches on key moments in Black history for the period. Directed by Joseph Megel, FREIGHT journeyed from Broadway in 2015, where the play garnered rave reviews, to Los Angeles. From 1910 boxcar to modern subway, this has been a momentous trip. FREIGHT makes its West Coast premiere in 2023 at the Fountain Theatre.

J. Alphonse Nicholson – Photo by Jonathan Benavente

In order to tell its story, we must follow Abel Green (J. Alphonse Nicholson) as he heads into the future through morphing into five different men at different points in time. First, we have a minstrel in 1910 rushing from boxcar to venue, where he lets everyone know that Blacks have always been good actors – even when in blackface which comes off to reveal dark skin beneath – because it was definitely a plus to insure Black longevity. Then we have a faith healer in 1930, a man made rich by the donations of his followers – possibly sporting a bruised conscience in the aftermath. In the 1960s, we have an FBI informant who infiltrates the Black Panthers, again a conscience-challenging task. But the train continues moving along to the 1980s, when an actor turns his back on his HIV positive friend, only to reverse course for the dying man. And finally, Green arrives at the very beginning of the twentieth-first century, a homeless man who recycles cans – but who formerly made a fortune pushing subprime loans on an unsuspecting public. Even though his conscience twinged and eventually defined his future, his reward for enlightenment seems harsh. Thus Green makes a full cycle through the century – while still tenaciously holding on to the hope that things will keep getting better.

J. Alphonse Nicholson – Photo by Jonathan Benavente

FREIGHT is seamlessly helmed by director Megel from Craft’s excellent script. But the star of the evening is J. Alphonse Nicholson, who offers a solo performance that is at once powerful, moving, humorous, and gritty. As he journeys through time with only minimal on-stage costume changes and shifting background graphics – while his graceful female assistant rearranges a few items on the spare set – Nicholson offers a brilliant depiction of five men with soiled consciences but an eye to future changes. FREIGHT becomes a master class for actors of all colors and persuasions. It is no wonder that the New York Times termed his performance brilliant and the show a “Critic’s Pick.”

J. Alphonse Nicholson – Photo by Jonathan Benavente

The creative team certainly offered a skilled hand to the play, from Joel Daavid’s scenic design to Alison Brummer’s lighting, Marc Antonio Pritchett’s sound, Danyele Thomas’ costumes, Rebecca Carr’s props, and Eamonn Farrell’s video design. FREIGHT highlights the production team’s skills in creating five settings worthy of Nicholson’s formidable performance. FREIGHT is highly recommended as an entertaining, compelling, timely, and thought-provoking production.

J. Alphonse Nicholson – Photo by Jonathan Benavente

FREIGHT runs through December 16, 2023, with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and Mondays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays. The Fountain Theatre is located at 5060 Fountain Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90029. Tickets range from $25 to $45 (seniors, $35; students $25; Pay-What-You-Want on Mondays subject to availability). For information and reservations, call 323-663-1525 or go online.

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