Post image for Theater Review: FREIGHT: THE FIVE INCARNATIONS OF ABEL GREEN (Fountain Theatre)

by Tony Frankel on November 13, 2023

in Theater-Los Angeles


How fascinating that two bookending one-man shows opened in Los Angeles this past weekend. The first, Just for Us at the Taper, is a play with universalisms and stories through a Jewish lens to largely comedic effect. The second, Freight, contains universalisms and stories told through a Black lens to a largely dramatic effect. At the Fountain Theatre, the strong, passionate, vulnerable, committed actor J. Alphonse Nicholson (A Soldier’s Play) inhabits the fictional character of Abel, a sort of Everyman Zelig who has five time-historical “incarnations” that elucidate parts of the African-American experience for a century beginning in 1910.


The show is relatable for all audiences because playwright Howard L. Craft examines through five monologues the promises of the American Dream, the pursuit of which we all know can lead to the selling of our soul. Each segment is terrific in and of itself, but the concept of stringing eras together as characters morph through time adds another dimension entirely: A minstrel player who becomes financially successful on the performance circuit while perpetrating the stereotype of a Black man (which reminded me of Hattie McDaniel’s line: “I’d rather play the maid than be the maid”); a faith healer who is swept up in the joy of Christianity only to discover he’s actually hurting folks who truly need healing; a thief who trades prison time to become an informant against the Black Panthers finds he’s complicit in the death of brothers, even as he he marvels at their Marxist message; a homophobic actor who learns to care too late during the AIDS epidemic; and a mortgage broker who is swept up in the get-rich-quick predatory schemes targeting low-income homebuyers, only to help create the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.


It’s heavy stuff but hardly depressing. For almost 100 minutes, Nicholson transforms into five fully-realized characters with no posturing, no big revelations, no moment of winner-take-all catharsis. Just an exploration of a person’s journey through life’s challenges, with all its accompanying heartbreak, revelation, and understanding. Director Joseph Megel’s presentation has Nicholson making eye-contact and touching audience members, which actually serves to dilute the storytelling at times, making Mr. Craft’s engrossing, palpable elucidations seem more like we’re in a lecture hall. And while it’s a lovely touch and aids in changing Danyele Thomas’s costumes, I’m not sold that we need Sidney Edwards silently joining Nicholson as “The Universal Flow” between monologues. Video designer Eamonn Farrell’s advanced multimedia of train travel, accompanied by Marc Antonio Pritchett‘s sound, helps take us on this ride as Abel and his incarnations seem always on a journey to that Promised Land.

photos by Jonathan Benavente

Freight: The Five Incarnations of Abel Green
Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave.
Fri, Sat & Mon at 8; Sun at 2
limited run through December 16, 2023
for tickets ($25 – $45), call 323.663.1525 or visit Fountain Theatre
Pay-What-You-Want and regular seating is available Mondays

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