A Quintet of Characters Brilliantly Illumine a Century of Racism, Survival and Struggle

A Quintet of Characters Brilliantly Illumine a Century of Racism, Survival and Struggle,  Photo by Jonathan Benavente

The West Coast premiere of award-winning playwright Howard L. Craft’s crafty Freight: The
Five Incarnations of Abel Green starring J. Alphonse Nicholson at the Fountain Theatre is
among the best one-man shows I’ve ever experienced. (Technically, Sidney Edwards portrays
“The Universal Flow,” who graciously assists Nicholson between scenes with props, costumes,
etc., as he morphs from one character to the next; otherwise, this is essentially a solo show.)
The 90-minute-plus, one-act play spans a century, and each of the five dramatis personae
Nicholson adeptly, smoothly transitions to and transforms into represents aspects of the African
American experience, from the 1910s to 2010s. (Freight ran Off-Broadway in 2015 and was a
New York Times’ Critic’s Pick – as it is for moi, too.) The quintet of characters includes circa
1910 a minstrel act performer who, cleverly channeling Hattie McDaniel and Stepin Fetchit,
would rather be well paid by white folks for playing a clueless, stereotypical “darkie” than to
actually be one subject to persecution and lynching. In the 1930s-set vignette the preternaturally
gifted Nicholson depicts a faith-healing preacher.
During the 1960s segment, Nicholson joins up with the Black Panther Party. (Although this
episode is well-acted and well-written, and mentions the Panthers’ free breakfast program and
free clinics, I wish somebody dramatizing the BPP would focus on their heroism, rather on the
COINTELPRO informers in their midst, as in Mario Van Peebles’ 1995 Panther and 2021’s
Judas and the Black Messiah. In his superb 2015 documentary The Black Panthers: Vanguard of
the Revolution Stanley Nelson did indeed capture the essence of those bold militants, as I fondly
remember them.)
In the 1980s, Nicholson portrays an actor dealing with the Blaxploitation film vogue, contending
with the caricatures Hollywood imposes, as well as the AIDs crisis. Nicholson’s final
“incarnation” in the 2010s, “The Saturn-Bound Man,” has a sci fi twist. The acting and writing
during this final act is as peerless as the rest of Craft’s wonderful one-man show, and I certainly
enjoyed it, although to tell the truth, I didn’t fully understand this last scene. Is space travel
meant to be a metaphor for the progression of Blacks in racist America?
Nevertheless, Freight a superlative solo show that should be seen by theatergoers interested in
the dramatizing of racism, stage and screen stereotypes, African American issues and history, as
well as by anyone who’s simply a fan of top notch acting. Craft and Nicholson richly succeed in
giving us a wide range of the spectrum of Black male reality over a 100 year spread. Despite the
five various epochs in this epic show, there is a sense of continuity, with some recurring
elements, including the names of various characters portrayed and referenced, and in particular,
as the play’s title alludes to, trains.
From riding the rails to the NYC subway system, trains figure in all five vignettes, although they
are transmogrified in the grand finale into an interstellar spacecraft in this stellar production,
enlivened by Eamonn Farrell’s video design, Khaleel Loyd’s graphic design and scenic designer

Joel Daavid’s sets. Director Joseph Megel seamlessly helms the show as Nicholson careens
through time and space, grappling with the stark realities of the racial limitations and boundaries
of a country that likes to pat itself on the back and call itself “the land of the free.”
Freight paints a portrait of an unjust world, but if there’s any justice in L.A.’s theater scene, the
highly recommended Freight and J. Alphonse Nicholson will be vividly remembered come
award time. Bravo!
Freight: The Five Incarnations of Abel Green is at 8:00 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays, and
Mondays and 2:00 p.m. on Sundays through Dec. 16 at: The Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain
Ave., Los Angeles CA 90029 (Fountain at Normandie). For info: (323)663-1525 or

A Quintet of Characters Brilliantly Illumine a Century of Racism, Survival and Struggle; Photo by Jonathan Benavente