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Theater review: 'Let Freedom Ring' at the Stella Adler Theatre

September 9, 2010 |  4:00 pm
Let Freedom ring - 037

Everybody loves a good heist, and Ted Lange’s “Let Freedom Ring,” now at the Stella Adler Theatre, has a delicious premise: In the Philadelphia of 1846, a canny band of African Americans, led by freeman Prince Africanus (Lange, who also directs), plots to steal the Liberty Bell as a symbolic protest against slavery.

It’s a promising setup, especially given the back-and-forth between conspirators who include irreverent Grandpa (“Saturday Night Live” alum Garrett Morris) and dry-witted West (Lou Beatty Jr.), born of George Washington’s dalliance with a slave. The men hatch their plan in a tavern run by abolitionist Sarah (Christine Kludjian) and her guarded barmaid, Mary (Shani Shockley, alternating with Chrystee Pharris), who have their own secrets.

But what starts out as a pointed comedy about race and perception shifts disappointingly to a hand-wringing melodrama about sexual abuse, and the evening begins to smell like a vanity project. Too bad, since Lange’s sense of guy-on-guy repartee is much stronger than his ear for female characters. On the plus side, Garrett keeps the energy up and Beatty is excellent both as a taciturn landowner and later pulling out the rhetorical stops to recount one of Aesop’s fables. Lange needs to find similar narrative focus if he takes another whack at this revisionist tale.

-- Charlotte Stoudt

“Let Freedom Ring,” Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends Sept. 26. $25. (800) 838-3006 or Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.

Photo: From left, Ted Lange, Lou Beatty Jr., Shani  Shockley, Chistopher O'Neal Warren, J.D. Hall and Garrett Morris. Credit: Mary Lange.