A young, well-spoken and highly educated black man is tapped to become the leader of a nation. But it's not who you think. The year is 1828, the place is Athens, Ohio, and the man is John Newton Templeton (Kareem Ferguson), a freed slave whose education is facilitated by the Rev. Robert Wilson (Frank Ashmore). Wilson, a strictly principled man, enrolls John in Ohio University. Wilson's wife, Jane (Kathleen Mary Carthy), initially cold to Templeton when he comes to live with them, softens over time; however, she plants doubts in Templeton's head about Wilson's plan to make him the governor of Liberia. Charles Smith's spare three-character study unfolds through intimate moments and intellectual discourse, powerfully examining the issues of its day, as well as questions surrounding citizenship and belonging, which continue to occupy us. The dialogue is especially refreshing for its crisp diction, for which the credit goes to both the cast and director Dan Bonnell. The show also appeals visually, as David Potts' set, consisting of stark silhouettes, brings to mind both the popular 18th century portraiture and African woodcuts. Similarly, A. Jeffrey Schoenberg's authentically plain costumes avoid the dual pitfalls of theatrical period garb, which is often either too showy or simply looks fake. The cast is stellar all around, taking us on a journey that stresses the urgency of fulfilling the promises upon which our country was built. The Colony Theater, 555 North Third St., Burbank; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 p.m. & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through September 12. (818) 558-7000, ext. 15; colonytheatre.org.
Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.; Saturdays, 3 p.m. Starts: Aug. 14. Continues through Sept. 12, 2010