Tuesday, September 4, 2012
Profile: Philip Kreyche and Freedom Fighter
by Michael Meigs
Philip Kreyche is the first person to appear for the curtain call of Freedom Fighter, playing at the Dougherty Arts Center Thursdays through Saturdays until September 8. Not because he wrote the play and directed it and produced it -- but because he plays several minor roles, each of them sharply contrasted to those of the two leading actors Samson Pleasant and Austen Simien. Kreyche plays a Florida overseer; he's a jovially unscrupulous army recruiter; he's a sergeant unsympathetic to the two hard-working privates; and he's an Army captain who first gets chewed out by President William McKinley and then gets captured by the Philippine troops commanded by the deserter/renegade/freedom fighter David Fagen.
Kreyche's Freedom Fighter is an ingenious script, powerfully Brechtian, occasionally anachronistic, an articulate drama leavened with occasional farce as it examines the United States thrust onto the world stage in the Spanish-American War of 1898 and the subsequent War of the Philippines of 1898 to 1902.
Mark Twain is a prominent character, narrator and commentator -- Michael Sisemore in that role is the voice of caustic reason, opposed to the suppression of the Philippines. Sisemore is distantly related to Twain professionalist Hal Holbrook, and he is granted unusual latitude in his intermission speech to choose his own Twainian zingers.
Ryan Manning plays an eager but not too bright Teddy Roosevelt, and Ethan Taylor has the courage to do a musical-hall Jim Crow number, though thank God he is spared from doing it in blackface. The words are powerful enough; in fact, words are powerful throughout this piece, and Kreyche's dialogue is quick, vivid and character-building. His word choices and expressions are vintage to the period, and his scenes often take unexpected turns.
Kreyche looks closely at America's racial attitudes, both against African-Americans and against Asians. Protagonist David Fagen was a black soldier from Tampa Bay, Florida, who defected to the Philippine forces and used his experience from combat in Cuba to wage guerrilla war against the occupying U.S. forces for more than two years. Samson Pleasant as Fagen is intelligent, resolute and eventually driven by the U.S. tactics of violent suppression to question his loyalties . Austen Simien as his friend Ezekiel breaks down -- post traumatic stress syndrome before anyone thought to name it -- and intensifies his own desperate loyalties, serving as a foil to Fagen throughout. Language and attitude are those of the late 19th century, and you'll hear that "n-word" wielded powerfully by both races as the audience identifies strongly with the two African-American soldiers.
The production is supported by the John L. Warfield Center for African and African-American studies at the University of Texas.