By Mark A. Leon
Enter into the Circular Congregational Church, with the harmony of piano orchestrated by Rachel Premo in the background and the slight hint of sunlight radiating through the stain glass. Stage Right, Pastor Brewster and Frederick Douglass walk slowly and sit patiently waiting for the conclusion of the musical number.
At this moment, you are miraculously taken back to 1872.
After a passionately beautiful introduction by Pastor Brewster played with prominence and poise by Clarence Felder, Frederick Douglass takes the podium. As Felder slowly descends from the stage, the dominant Douglass rises from obscurity to voice a generation with his masterful oratory gift and his passion for the brotherhood of humanity.
Over the next hour, acting sensation Kyle Taylor transforms into the embodiment of Frederick Douglass.
Through tremendous adversity, his faith in Christianity and Jesus and his mission to abolish ignorance and promote freedom for all mankind, Frederick Douglass gave a life dedicated to the values of equality. With nothing but faith, he escaped the chains of oppression to find meaning and share his message to the masses.
Kyle Taylor’s one man performance, like the life of Frederick Douglass is filled with courage, hope, humor and song. As he sung the gospel of Jesus, channeling the soulful voice of the likes of Paul Robeson, the audience felt shivers, applauding each note with ovation.
As the final cries of peace concluded this triumphant performance, the entire room rose and gave a full one minute ovation until the moment Taylor exited the church floor.
As Taylor spoke of the journey of Douglass with vulnerable transparency, his emulation of this critical figure in US history began real and the dialogue soon became a metamorphosis. It is rare in live theatre, then an actor can bring to life so much of the pure essence of a character as Kyle Taylor has done with Douglass.
Throughout this one act play, the audience is taken on a roller coaster of emotion from hatred of the ignorance, to empathy for the cause to celebration of freedom.
In one of many entrancingly moving scenes, Douglass recounts the moment his stood up to his Master. It was that act of bravery that not only led to his Master never hitting him again, but solidified the realization he had become a man. This would become the true turning point when slave became leader.
History is driven by moments. These moments are all part of a larger journey. Books, letters and manuscripts paint a beautiful picture and help us piece together the lives of our forefathers, but to bring to life the remarkable story of a single man, whose life led him from slavery to a seat with President Lincoln, takes a respectful act of research, patience and heart.
Chris Weatherhead has orchestrated a piece of writing and direction that is a filled with so much heart and honesty, that is must be experienced. Her dedication to the authenticity of American history and mission to continue to share the stories of our founding fathers and inspirational leaders is a testament to the play she has shared with us.
Kyle Taylor is an absolute triumph. His vision of Frederick Douglass was so real, so raw and so poignant, it may be one of the best performances of the Spoleto season.
There are three remaining performance on June 3, June 8 and June 11.