The collectors, in an unrecognized union founded and led by Jones, call their strike without consulting their national office, and they march. The mayor (Joe Barnaba), in a show of force, has the police find reason for violence, and many collectors are beaten. A white minister (Matt K. Miller) is shot to death.

The collectors, in an unrecognized union founded and led by Jones, call their strike without consulting their national office, and they march. The mayor (Joe Barnaba), in a show of force, has the police find reason for violence, and many collectors are beaten. A white minister (Matt K. Miller) is shot to death.

TX:The Fountain Theatre, Deborah Lawlor, producing artistic director, and Stephen Sachs, managing artistic director, present a drama in two acts by OyamO, directed by Anthony J. Haney, produced by Sachs, Yvonne Bennett and Bennett Bradley. Jones finds himself in the national spotlight, having to work with many powerful forces: the local black ministers’ coalition; his national union leadership; the NAACP; a group of black nationalists; and, finally, King himself.

Two men from the national union office, Joshua Solomon (Howard S. Miller) and Craig Willins (Ronn Jerard), are not pleased by Jones’ lack of foresight or planning, but come to support him and coordinate their efforts.

Two black militants (Gregory Storm and Al Garrett) claim Jones as their black leader and swell Jones’ head with self-importance, which leads to in-fighting with the other parties. It also pits the violent “by any means necessary” stance advocated by Malcolm X against King’s passive nonviolence.

OyamO, who teaches at the U. of Michigan, adeptly incorporates exposition within action, avoiding preachiness and didacticism. One event sweeps to another , more powerful event, and history becomes the backdrop to dynamic characters working with or against each other.

Director Haney makes his cast, large as it is, represent even more people — hundreds of workers, the city government, the police department and other organizations. The people move adroitly across a minimalist stage that cleverly accommodates all people and places.

The character of T.O. Jones is riddled with fallibility, including inattention to his family and a vulnerability to flattery. By the end, Taylor shows the burden of Jones’ realization of what he’s done.

Others within the cast particularly gleam, including John Wesley as a minister who sees early on the importance of Jones’ effort, Howard S. Miller and Ronn Jerard as labor leaders who are not swayed by charm or intimidation, and Kelly Taffe in two roles. A guitar-playing bluesman, Kevin E. Jones, underscores the action.

Evan Mower’s slide projections of the real events help set time and place well, as does Charles Dayton’s sound design that incorporates audio clips of Dr. King, and Jeanne Reith Waterman’s costume design. Kathi O’Donohue’s light design and Marvin Tunney’s choreography help propel the story from place to place.

OyamO already is adapting the play into a screenplay for HBO.

I Am a Man

Production

I am a Man (Fountain Theatre, Hollywood; 99 seats; $ 22 top)

Crew

Set design, Tim Farmer and Mark Henderson; lighting design, Kathi O'Donohue; sound design, Charles Dayton; costume design, Jeanne Reith Waterman; choreography, Marvin Tunney; slide projection specialist, Evan Mower. Opened Feb. 23, 1996; reviewed March 1; closes March 30. Running time, 2 hrs. 30 min.

With

Cast: Joe Barnaba, Rita Cooper, John Freeland, Jr., Al Garrett, Kevin E. Jones, Ronn Jerard, Howard S. Miller, Matt K. Miller, Jack Newalu, Robert Schuch, Gregory Storm, Kelly Taffe, Corey Joshua Taylor, William Taylor and John Wesley. Director Anthony J. Haney brings vibrant life to OyamO's retelling of the 1968 black garbage collectors' strike that brought Martin Luther King Jr. to Memphis. At the core of "I Am a Man" is William Taylor's vigorous performance as T.O. Jones; the play is delivered with urgency, passion and theatrical skill.
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