July 23, 2018

Window Into the Past

This intriguing piece, derived from Woolman's diary, portrays Woolman from teenager to older man (he died at 52 of smallpox while visiting England on an anti-slavery tour).

Obviously very sincere in matters of religion, Swingle hasn't let matters of devotion get in the way of creating an entertaining, interesting, and moving theatre piece. He played Woolman as an older man and as a 19-year-old, as well as portraying his boss, Michael Worthington, two slaves, and a slaveowner and former chum, Amos Elkins. In the course of the play, Woolman develops from callow youth to thoughtful and independent adult. The presence of the other characters gives Woolman something to develop against, as, for instance, when one slave dies, unburdening himself most frankly against white slaveowners, under his care. Woolman's character is shown warts and all, and his life becomes a process of slowly getting rid of those warts and starting his own ministry.

None of this would have worked were Swingle not an extremely competent actor, able to bring all these characters to life with a minimum of props, a couple of set pieces, and authentic-looking costume.

Two notes that made the production especially interesting were a minute of Quaker worship during intermission (no one had a clear leading* and spoke up, though) and a question-and-answer session by John Woolman -- that is, Swingle still in character -- after the show.
—John Chatterton
Off-Off Broadway Review, August 7, 1997 (Full review)

Click here for a 1999 Off-Off Broadway Review of a later production.

*The play was titled A Clear Leading at the time of this review. It is now titled I Dreamed I Was Free.

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