Encountering Al Freeman Jr.

I’m not doing a Doug Ward update this issue because I feel the report on the Texas conference is an update since it took place so recently. Instead I’ll use the space to talk about actor Al Freeman Jr.

Encountering Al Freeman Jr.

Although I didn’t know Al Freeman Jr. I encountered him a couple of times. The first was sometime in the 1980s after a fund raising benefit for the NEC that was held in a Broadway theatre. Afterwards a lot of us wound up in a bar close by for drinks. The place was crowded and somehow I wound up at the bar shoulder to shoulder next to Al. We said a polite hello to each other and he then asked my name and if I was officially connected to the NEC. I said no but that they had done some of my plays. He thought about it for a minute and then said: “Oh my God, you’re the one who wrote that play that I liked so much.” He was talking about my first play The Offering. He went on to talk about the silences and the subtext that he felt were such an important part of the play. “It’s interesting because it’s not explicit and you know how we actors like to have things be explicit. I think that’s why I like it so much.”  Then we went on from there to talk about other things. Films he had appeared in, plays at the NEC he had done and some directing he had done too. In a matter of minutes some people came and took him away and that was the extent of our first meeting.

The next time we came across each other was some years later. He was appearing in a play off-off Broadway somewhere in the Village. I went to see it because I knew someone in the cast. After the show I went backstage to meet my friend and I ran into Al again. We talked for a few minutes and I remember asking him something like “Why was an actor of his caliber acting in an off-off Broadway show? And I remember his answer so clearly. He said: “Gus, they let me sing in the show. That’s something I rarely get to do. Sing in public and I love to do it. I‘m known as a dramatic actor but I love to sing. I’ll go to the hell hole of Calcutta if they’ll let me sing.” I remember laughing at the answer and telling him I know what he meant because I love to sing too.

We never saw each other after that although I followed his career on TV and in the movies. I remember him with a certain fondness based on those two brief encounters and was saddened to read of his passing in the newspaper…Rest in peace Al. And I know wherever you are that you’re singing to your hearts content.


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