French, an award-winning actor born in Harlem and of Caribbean descent, is among a cast of six in the new off-Broadway romantic drama, "Living in the Wind," now playing through Sunday, Dec. 31 at The American Place Theatre, 111 West 46th St. in Manhattan.
The play is set 12 years after the end of the Civil war and the emancipation of the slaves. Former slaves Sarah and Isaiah try to build a life together, but are hunted by the ghosts of their not-so-distant past.
The play, written by Michael Bradford, produced by The American Place Theatre and directed by Regge Life, focuses on "finding our way after slavery," French said. "We were freed, but we had no property, no money, no education. The promise of '40 acres and a mule' - nobody ever got it."
Many of the freed slaves had no choice but to return to their former masters, French stressed. They became hired workers instead of slaves, but the effect was virtually the same - most if not all of their wages went back to the white property owners to cover rent and food.
"The chains are still around," said French. In a historical context, slavery in America ended not very long ago, and the nation, he said, has yet to fully recover from an institutionalized system of treating humans like animals - in many cases actually placing bits in their mouths, like horses.
Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation hardly eradicated racism, alive yet today in 21st century America. "I think it's fairly obvious that black people were stopped at the polls" in Florida in the Nov. 7 election, French said.
But now, he said, it's up to the descendants of slaves to "free ourselves," and shake off "the yoke' that persists. French was always interested in acting, but confined his passion for it to community theater while he worked full time as an office manager for the Department of Social Services. He decided at one point, though, "I had to fish or cut bait. I had to give it a shot.
He last appeared at The American Place Theatre in "Fly," and was in the pilot episode of the (short-lived) NBC drama, "Deadline." His film credits include "Music of the Heart and "The Out of Towners."
French is a recipient of the Obie Award for Sustained Excellence of a Performance.
Performances of "Living in the Wind" continue to Dec. 31, Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., with matinees at 2 p.m. Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays. For the $35 and $40 tickets, call Telecharge, 212-239-6200.
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