Between Men and Cattle
by Richard Kalinoski
Ernest Freeman Jr., age 11, early 40s
Jerry Rudman, early 20s, early 50s
To be played by one actor:
Ernest Freeman Sr.
Walter, all-purpose servant
To be played by one actor:
Sandra Glass, college administrator
“On a day like any other in 1970, a precocious African American boy is made indelibly aware of his color by a zealous young reporter. The boy excels and, 29 years later, is chosen as the first black president of a prestigious college. The reporter returns, and as the two men examine past mistakes, they challenge each other to envision a future where, finally, one is judged solely by content of character – not color of skin.”
-Next Act Theatre (2004)
--Detroit Repertory Theatre, Detroit, Michigan; 10-week run (Jan. to March)*
--OxAct/African American Theatre Company, Oxford, Ohio, March (full production)
--Hudson Stage Company, Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y., February (Professional Reading)
--Next Act Theatre, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, January (full production)*
--World Premiere, InterAct Theatre Company, Profession Equity Production, Philadelphia, PA., March (full production)
--National Playwrights Conference, The Eugene O’Neill Center, 2 public readings, produced by Bloomington Playwrights Project, Bloomington, Indiana*
* indicates Equity and/ or professional casts
Wisconsin Arts Board Fellowship (based on Between Men and Cattle), 2003
Barrymore Nomination – Outstanding New Play of 1999-2000, Philadelphia, PA.
Reva Shiner Playwriting Award – Bloomington Playwrights Project, Bloomington, IN., 1995
Selected, National Playwright’s Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center, Waterford, Connecticut, 1995
Selected, The George Houston Bass Play, Rites Festival, Rites and Reason Theatre, Brown University, 1995
From Reviews of Between Men and Cattle
Of InterAct Theatre Company’s 2000 production:
“Sometimes when theatre is at its shining best you get what might be called ‘Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address Syndrome’--a reaction of stunned silence. In a darkened theatre space, it’s the same phenomenon, seen rarely. But there it was at Interact Theatre Co’s magnificent world premiere of Richard Kalinoski’s piercing look at race in all its ramifications.” Main Line Life, Philadelphia
Of Next Act’s 2004 Production:
“‘Between Men and Cattle’ illustrates our tendency to objectify others, particularly people who are different from us. It pleads for sensitivity at the same time that it acknowledges a racial divide that has proved difficult to bridge. Kalinoski is a gifted writer whose work is rich with visual images.” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
"Masterfully written by Wisconsin native Richard Kalinoski, 30 years of pain, growth, regression and errors are condensed into a mere two hours of drama.” UWM Post
From Main Line Life’s Guide to Arts & Leisure for March 22-28, 2000, Philadelphia, PA. By Sally Friedman, Main Line Life Correspondent
Sometimes when theater is at its shining best, you get what might be called the “Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address Syndrome” – a reaction of stunned silence.
It’s surely not the silence of indifference – legend has it that in the case of Lincoln’s memorable address, people were simply too overwhelmed to react. In a darkened theater space, it’s the same phenomenon, seen rarely.
But there it was at the conclusion of the first act of Between Men and Cattle, InterAct Theatre Co.’s magnificent world premiere offering of Richard Kalinoski’s piercing look at race in all its ramifications.
It took five years to get this play from conception to page to stage, and the wait was worth it. Kalinoski was deeply struck, some years ago, by a televised interview of a precocious black child and set about to develop that single memory into a full-blown examination of what it means to be black, and, ultimately, whether nonblacks can ever fully understand that immutable fact of birth and, presumably, destiny.
In a powerful first act, we meet Ernest Freeman Jr. (Bruce Burton Robinson), who has just placed second in a Martin Luther King memorial oratorial contest, and whose oratorial brilliance has piqued the curiosity of Jerry Rudman (Anthony Lawton), a white, newly minted reporter.
As the youngster faces his first interview in a diner where he can eat anything he chooses at the expense of the Rudman’s newspaper, he also begins to reveal his enormous gift and reverence for language, which the reporter finds all the more fascinating because of the boy’s race and background.
Ernest’s stories spill out over pancakes and the eggs his late mother, and most passionate teacher, has mandated he eat, as his father (Vincent Yates) sits nearby as proud protector/adviser of the son he knows is “rare.”
And father knows best: Ernest is no ordinary 11-year-old.
The youngster, who touchingly totes a lunch box that contains his treasures, even spots the inequity in the interview format where he is doing all the giving and the reporter is greedily taking. He is both wary – and touchingly vulnerable – all the more so because Ernest, at 11, is being played by the enormously gifted, middle-aged Robinson.
Ernest may be a lot of things, but he is surely not ready to be the subject of a career-establishing profile by Rudman that features the boy as a “Jewel of the Ghetto,” a headline that is flashed on a screen behind the set that projects various relevant images throughout the play.
Acting as our narrator/guides through this engaging terrain are Vincent Yates and Cathy Simpson, both of whom ably take on other roles as we encounter the reporter and his subject again, decades later. Now, Dr. Ernest Freeman is about to be sworn in as the president of a prestigious private – and lily-white – college.
The fireworks come quickly in Act II and concern the core issues of the play, whose title stems from The Souls of Black Folks by W.E.B. DuBois.
“The sincere and passionate belief of the older South,” wrote DuBois, “is that somewhere between men and cattle, God created a tertium quid and called it a Negro.”
When all is said and done, the new college president faces the ultimate moral/ethical challenge of his personal and professional life, and the reporter is privy to it. To say more might be to spoil some of the play’s impact.
How Freeman, who believes that “...the privacy of my soul comes before the color of my skin,” decides what to do, with the college’s provost and cook as his conscience, frames some of the most compelling drama this reviewer has seen on any stage.
And that the college president and the journalist seem destined to remain strangers, or as the script suggests, “...two men trying to jump over history,” gives the work its ultimate power.
Four stellar performances – the dazzling direction of Mark Hallen – and a script that positively crackles – all yield a marvelous evening of powerful theater.