A Slave Jockeys His Escape in Pure Confidence

In Pure Confidence, directed by Marion McClinton, playwright Carlyle Brown takes the audience on a trot through the peculiar institutions of slavery and horse racing. The story concerns a slave named Simon Cato (Gavin Lawrence), who achieves fame as a jockey. On the track, he rides unfettered; off it, he lives enchained. Using his horsemanship as leverage, he devises a plan to gallop his way toward freedom.

Brown has written a melodrama: entertaining, if also sentimental and simplistic. The play's less-than-startling claim—that racism comes in a variety of flavors, from mustache-twirling villainy to friendly paternalism—won't stun anyone possessed of a fair knowledge of American history. Linguistic anachronisms and pop psychology mar many a scene, but, when he wants to, Brown can write a sequence as thrilling as any onstage—as when Simon recounts an imaginary race between two horses named Freedom and Slavery. Freedom wins by four lengths. Pure Confidence certainly isn't such a runaway success, but it makes a passable showing.

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