Play: Charles Smith's "Freefall"

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Milena Davila as Alex, Jason Bond as Grant.  Photo by Jingxi Zhang.

Theater for a New Generation will present "Freefall" by the highly celebrated Chicago playwright Charles Smith, directed by Mel Williams, at The Drilling Company Theatre, 238 West 78th Street, September 11 to 28.

The play is a drama of two brothers who grew up in inner-city Chicago and have followed divergent paths into adulthood: one as a thief, the other as a policeman.

The realistic, possibly allegorical play is a dramatic portrayal of what family means in a society that has splintered the traditional institution.  Although Grant and Monk are brothers, they took very different paths out of the neighborhood. Grant is cop with a low-risk desk job; he is attempting to carve a nice niche for himself and his wife, Alex, in a middle class suburb. Monk, recently released from prison, has found faith through an unknown benefactor. Monk needs a place to live and searches for his mysterious benefactor. Lacking food, clothing, and shelter, he still possesses inspiration and the drive to strive for higher awareness.

When Monk shows up on Grant and Alex's doorstep, all three are thrust into a confrontation which forces them to explore what it means to be family.  Grant had helped to put his brother away for burglary and drugs, so there is no family trust to protect either man.  Monk's ally of last resort is a drug lord named Spoon, who sets up a dangerous confrontation with lethal consequences.  It's up to Grant's wife, Alex, to avert a freefall.  In the end, the play celebrates the union of faith, family, and the coming together of the whole.

Director Mel Williams often selects plays for his company, Theater for a New Generation, in which the African-American 'lost generation' experiences the joy of learning personal truths and the frustration and pain of learning realities.  He directed Theater for a New Generation's production of "Corner Wars" by Tim Dowlin at the 47th Street Theater in 2003, for which Dowlin was awarded Newsday's George Oppenheimer Award for the best New York debut by an American playwright for a non-musical play.  One of the earliest plays to be written entirely in rap patois, it told a story of kids selling drugs in a rough section of north Philadelphia.  The production received unanimously congratulatory reviews for its raw power and its innovative use of language.

The New York Times (Bruce Weber) wrote, "Its depiction of street-corner culture, a strain of hip-hop that is fueled by testosterone competition, feels authentic and new to the stage."  Chelsea-Clinton News praised "the large cast, under Mel Williams' fine, subtle direction" and declared, "This is an amazing production, of an amazing play." Backstage wrote, "Mel Williams' staging is palpable from the opening moments."

Martin Denton wrote in NYtheatre.com. "This is my first exposure to the work of Theatre for a New Generation, but it won't be my last.  I salute them for putting up a show like this...."  Omar Evans, who plays Spoon in "Freefall," was commended in the Village Voice (James Hannaham) for his spirited performance as a put-upon drug dealer.

Williams trained under Sanford Meisner and Lee Strassberg and has acted and directed in numerous theaters in Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Vermont, Boston and NYC.  He is a member of Lincoln Center Directors' Lab.  He made his New York directorial debut in 1995 with "Keep Back 200 ft." at La MaMa, a solo show for Ray Thomas that he had written with Thomas, which dramatized the difficulties common to all young black men in separating personal issues from racial ones and their struggle against perception problems that are common to a whole generation of black youth.  HisTheater for a New Generation started in Philadelphia, where Williams was Artistic Director at the Creative and Performing Arts High School.  An acting teacher for over 40 years, he has coached such notables as Queen Latifah, Common, Michael K. Williams, Mary J. Blige, Rick Ross, Dwight Howard and Jill Scott.

Charles Smith has had nine plays premiere at Victory Gardens Theatre in Chicago and three at Indiana Rep.  His "Pudd'nhead Wilson," commissioned and produced by The Acting Company, enjoyed a twenty-two city national tour before being produced Off-Broadway and his "Knock Me a Kiss" was recently produced in New York, directed by Chuck Smith and featuring André De Shields.  He is also author of two Emmy Award-winning teleplays, "Fast Break to Glory" and "Pequito."  His play, "Free Man of Color," was awarded the Joseph Jefferson Award and a John W. Schmid Award, both for Outstanding New Work.  His other plays include "The Sutherland," "Black Star Line," "Jelly Belly," "Young Richard," "Cane," "The Gospel According to James," "Sister Carrie," "Les Trois Dumas," "Takunda" and "City of Gold."

He has received the Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award, Illinois Arts Council Governors Award, Princess Grace Fellowship, the Cornerstone National Playwriting Award, the Joyce Award, The National Black Theatre Festival’s August Wilson Playwriting Award, the Theodore Ward National Playwriting Award, two Black Theatre Alliance Awards for New Work, the NBC New Voices Award, and numerous other AUDELCO, Jeff, NAACP, and Black Theatre Alliance award nominations. He is an alumnus playwright of New Dramatists and a graduate of the University of Iowa Playwrights Workshop.  He currently heads the Professional Playwriting Program at Ohio University.

Theater for a New Generation is a nonprofit organization founded by Ray Thomas in 1994.  Under the direction of Mel Williams, Artistic Director, the company has produced well-received Off and Off-Off Broadway shows including "Corner Wars" by Tim Dowlin (Oppie-winner, 2003) and a one-week run of "Private Wars" by James McClure last year.  The company is comprised of younger and older professional actors of all ages and has worked, produced, and trained in theaters including the Paul Robeson Theatre in Brooklyn NY, La MaMa, The Producer's Club, Theater 22, Musical Theater Works, Pulse Ensemble Theater and Lincoln Center.  The company also holds acting classes, led by Mel Williams, that are open to members and other professionals. 

Williams was drawn to the play by its memorable dialogue, which peppers street lingo with quotations from Descartes and St. Augustine, and its provocative situation of two brothers: one who is seeking his past and the other who is running from it, both seeking solace in each other.  "Freefall" was originally workshopped at New Dramatists in 1993 and debuted at the Victory Gardens Theater, Chicago, in 1993. It was presented Off-Broadway at the Theatre Row Theater in March, 1994.  "After 19 years, it begged to be reconsidered," he says.

"Freefall" will be performed by Jason Bond as Grant, Milena Davila as Alex, Omar Evans as Spoon and Rosario Salvador as Monk.  Set design is by Carl Tallent.  Lighting design is by Michael Cole.  

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