Watching daytime actor James Reynolds step outside his Commander Abe Carver alter ego was absolutely amazing to witness. Reynolds has been a permanent fixture on the Emmy award-winning serial Days of Our Lives since 1981 and played the powerful mogul Henry Marshall on the 2-year NBC African American soap Generations.


James Reynolds in "I, Too, Am America"


Once you see an actor in a particular role and doing an excellent job at it, it's sometimes difficult to imagine him or her being anyone else. This wasn't the case in his one-man show I, Too, Am America the last line from Harlem Renaissance writer Langston Hughes poem 'I, Too'. Reynolds compiled an impressive resume of African American icons and experiences that have shaped America.

The two-time Emmy nominated actor reveals many sides: funny, vulnerable, tough and plain common sense which also describes what African Americans have gone through. The characters, both real life and fictional, become bigger then life detailing both tragic and inspirational encounters. During his homage to these legends, Reynolds shared some particulars about himself.

With a black cowboy hat and holding an imaginary holster, Reynolds was on fire as the beloved Deadwood Dick aka Nat Love, an African American cowboy. He does a hysterical mixture of a Texan and Southern twang, bringing out Love's unconventional personality. Another piece, which was equally humorous, has him playing a slick-talking-always-with-the-hand-out minister in 'The Sermon'.

James Reynolds in "I, Too, Am America"


Using that familiarly vociferous tone preachers use to encourage their congregation to add more into the collection plate, Reynolds had the people shouting 'Hallelujah' and 'Amen' as he stomped up and down the stairs. After the laughs settled down, he effortlessly swooped in for the dramatic part of the evening to reveal the treacherous and painful moments which are ignored in our history.

He told the incredible story of Solomon Northup, a free-slave who was promised a new job but instead was illegally sold into slavery and remained one for 12 grueling years. Reynolds envisioned Northup as an observer on the auction block watching a boy being taken away from his mother. Reynolds' voice slowly becomes low as he describes how Solomon had to hold back tears knowing the family would never see each other again. This is the kind of suppressed knowledge that should be found in books but conveniently is not

James Reynolds in "I, Too, Am America"


The same tender emphasis was given in 'Middle Passage' a poem written by educator Robert Hayden inspired by the rebellion of the slaves aboard La Amistad ship who won their freedom in court. Reynolds played many roles, including one of the surviving men who depicted the leader Cinque as an animal, and President John Quincy Adams who defended the African slaves. Adams' arguments ruined any chances for the prosecution to win.

Reynolds gives an impassioned speech, probably similar to Adams, that only his point of view matters. His poignant and emotive words make it difficult not to believe him. Between reviving his chosen historical figures, Reynolds talks about himself. He grew up in Kansas, had asthma as a kid, won his first fight when he was eight years old when a little boy used a racial slur against him, joined the Marines, married his beautiful wife Lissa, became a proud father when son Jed was born and just happened to fall into acting. 

The last time Reynolds performed his show was nearly seven years ago. That is way too long a wait for audiences who want to see him work his magic. Abe Carver is only one of the major roles in Reynolds repertoire. He brings humor, insight and most importantly the truth on how Black Americans have contributed to America. ITAA is too much of gem to be stored away for so long and not let anyone else be blessed by its shine. And wearing the cowboy hat doesn't hurt. 

I, Too, Am America plays at the Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena, Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. until Saturday, June 2. For tickets call (866) 811-4111 and for more information visit www.fremontcentretheatre.com.

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