Category Archives: Acting

L.A. Premiere of Lucy Kirkwood’s ‘The Children’ opens Nov. 6 on the Fountain’s indoor stage

What is our responsibility to the future? What legacy do we want to leave? The Los Angeles premiere of The Children, written by Lucy Kirkwood and directed by Simon Levy, asks those questions and more in its Los Angeles premiere at the Fountain Theatre. Performances begin on the Fountain’s indoor stage (with all health and safety guidelines strictly adhered to) on Saturday, Nov. 6. The run continues through Jan. 23.

Kirkwood’s funny and astonishing Tony-nominated play is a taut and disquieting thriller about responsibility, reparation and what one generation owes the next. With the outside world in chaos following a devastating environmental disaster, two retired nuclear engineers live a quiet life in a remote cottage on the lonely British coast — until a surprise visit from a former colleague upends the couple’s equilibrium and trust.

The cast includes Ron Bottitta (Hir, Faith Healer, Arsenic and Old Lace, The Arsonists at the Odyssey Theatre; Superior Donuts, Yes, Prime Minister at the Geffen; Oppenheimer, Honky, Razorback at Rogue Machine Theatre, where he also hosts the company’s Rant and Rave spoken word series); Elizabeth Elias Huffman (artistic director of Chain Reaction Theatre in Pittsburgh, most recently seen on stage in The Oldest Profession by Paula Vogel at Portland’s Profile Theatre); and Lily Knight (Ovation, LADCC and Stage Raw award nominee for A Small Fire at the Echo Theater Company; A Delicate Balance at the Odyssey; Three Days in the Country, The Crucible, Peace in Our Time, The Autumn Garden at Antaeus, where she is a member).

“What I love about the play,” says Levy, “is that it tackles these enormously important contemporary issues about our responsibility to the planet, to each other, to future generations, and grounds them in funny, complex, identifiable characters grappling with a moral dilemma that, quite frankly, all of us are confronting, right now, in real time.”

“The nuclear disaster the town is struggling to survive could be anything — it could be COVID, or climate change,” says Fountain artistic director Stephen Sachs. “The moral dilemma is: what world are we leaving to our children?”

The Children premiered at the Royal Court Theatre in London in 2016, then transferred to the Manhattan Theatre Club on Broadway the following year. In 2019, The Guardian placed The Children on its list of “greatest theatrical works since 2000.” London’s The Independent called millennial playwright Kirkwood “the most rewarding dramatist of her generation.”

The Fountain creative team includes scenic designer Andrew G. Hammer; lighting designer Christian V. Mejia; sound designer Marc Antonio Pritchett; costume designer Naila Aladdin Sanders; choreographer Annie Yee; and dialect coach Nike Doukas. The production stage manager is Gina DeLuca. Stephen Sachs and James Bennett produce for the Fountain Theatre. Producing underwriters include Sheila and Alan Lamson, and Carrie Chassin and Jochen Haber. The executive producer is Karen Kondazian.

Proof of vaccination and mask-wearing will be required of all patrons. Admittance limited to ages 12+. All current CDC and local guidelines regarding seating and masks will be followed at each performance.

For reservations and information.

Angie Kariotis talks Walking the Beat and its August 25 final presentation: BLACKOUT 2021

Angie Kariotis, co-creator of Walking the Beat

by France-Luce Benson

Among the many lessons learned in 2020, the most crucial may be our urgent need to have open and honest conversations about race in America. As the grisly video of George Floyd’s murder surfaced, it became painfully clear that we could not afford to look away. Protesters spilled into the streets of cities across the country with a powerful message: If we are silent about injustice, we are complicit.

Angie Kariotis, Program Facilitator and Curriculum Director for Walking the Beat Los Angeles, has devoted her work to fostering these difficult conversations. Kariotis, along with Fountain Theatre Board member Theo Perkins, created Walking the Beat as a tool for community building for high school students. The nine-week multi-media workshop combines performance, creative writing, film, and research to initiate positive interactions between youth and police.

The Arts Education program began in New Jersey in partnership with Elizabeth Youth Theatre Ensemble, and in 2019 the Fountain Theatre launched Walking the Beat Hollywood. This year, the Fountain expanded the program, making it possible for students and police officers outside Hollywood to participate. On August 25, the Fountain will screen Walking the Beat Los Angeles’ culminating multi-media presentation, BLACKOUT 2021.

I had the pleasure of talking to Kariotis about the evolution, impact, and future of this vital program. 

What kind of impact did the events of 2020 have on the students, based on your work with them this past month?

If we are scared as a nation, we will forget all the lessons hard learned. You can see it happening already. No one is talking about all the changes we want to keep. What do we want to keep? Instead of rushing to “normal” (which wasn’t!), 2020 necessitated an activation. We’re activated. One thing the students are is ready.

Was it difficult getting the officers and students to open up?

No, it wasn’t difficult for anyone to open up, by themselves and with each other. People, and I believe most people, want to do just that. But they need permission and they don’t want to be alone doing it.

How has the program evolved since its inception, particularly in the last year?

We got research-heavy this year. We turned this workshop into a popular education. We practiced critique and analysis. We studied. We grew into our work as research-based performance artists. We aimed to challenge public policy formally. We are working to move our practice into the theater that is public policy.

How have your own background and experiences prepared you to do this?

I am studying design thinking and collaborative group processes. This framework is about divergent thinking, collaboration, experimentation, and honoring failure. Creativity — and not just the art-making transactional kind — is a necessary skill. We need people who are able to identify problems before they become problems.

Who should see BLACKOUT 2021? Why?

Anyone who wants to know how to have hard conversations with others. People interested in learning how to get people to the table. How to talk about things no one knows how to talk about. Right now we all want to talk about a lot, but we don’t know how.

What is your vision for the future of Walking the Beat and beyond?

For Walking the Beat, my vision is doing policy brief work, where we move beyond survivance and reconnect with the Earth. I wonder how our workshop can tackle the larger theme of power and how that affects our relationship with the planet.  We talk about public safety. Do we have planetary safety? What does that mean? How is the way we treat each other impacting climate? This is the ethos moving me into this space and beyond.

* * *

It is this passion and progressive vision that have inspired the ensemble of students and officers to create work that is bold, brave, and charged with the urgency of this moment in our country. In addition to serving as Program Facilitator and Curriculum Director of Walking the Beat, Kariotis offers community workshops for parents on How to Raise Anti-Racist Kids, works at Brookdale Community College as Director of Diversity and Inclusion/CCOG, and has published a chapter in Musing the Margins, an anthology examining the influence of culture and identity on the craft of fiction.

BLACKOUT 2021 will premiere on the Fountain Theatre’s outdoor stage this Wednesday, August 25, at 7pm. It will also be available to view on Fountain Stream in the fall.

France-Luce Benson is an award-winning playwright and the Community Engagement Coordinator at the Fountain Theatre.

Casting complete for the Fountain’s L.A. premiere production of An Octoroon

Casting is complete and rehearsals begin this week for the Los Angeles premiere of a radical, incendiary and subversively funny Obie award-winning play by MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant” recipient Branden Jacobs-Jenkins. Performances of An Octoroon will inaugurate the new outdoor stage at The Fountain Theatre on June 18. Performances will continue through Sept. 19, with four public previews set for June 11, June 12, June 13 and June 16, and a special press preview on June 17.

Judith Moreland directs Jacobs-Jenkins’s outrageous deconstruction of a moustache-twirling melodrama by 19th century playwright Dion Boucicault. Matthew Hancock (LADCC, Stage Raw and Ovation award-winner for Hit the Wall at the L.A. LGBT Center, previously seen at the Fountain in Between Riverside and Crazy, Hype Man, The Brothers Size, I and You) stars as a modern-day Black playwright struggling to find his voice among a chorus of people telling him what he should and should not be writing. He decides to adapt his favorite play, Boucicault’s The Octoroon, an 1859 melodrama about illicit interracial love.

The Black playwright quickly realizes that getting White, male actors of today to play evil slave owners will not be easy… so, he decides to play the White male roles himself — in whiteface. What ensues is an upside down, topsy-turvy world where race and morality are challenged, mocked and savagely intensified. A highly stylized, theatrical, melodramatic reality is created to tell the story of an octoroon woman (a person who is one-eighth Black) and her quest for identity and love.

The cast includes Rob Nagle (Human Interest Story at the Fountain, The Judas Kiss at Boston Court) as Boucicault; Hazel Lozano (America Adjacent at the Skylight, Othello at Griot Theatre) as the production assistant; Mara Klein (The Judas Kiss at Boston Court, Sucker Punch at Coeurage) as the octoroon, Zoe; and Vanessa Claire Stewart (Louis & Keely: Live at the Sahara at the Geffen, Finks at Rogue Machine) as Dora, a rich Southern belle in love with the plantation owner (who is also played by Hancock). Meanwhile, Leea Ayers (BLKS at Steppenwolf, Incendiary at the Goodman Theatre), Kacie Rogers (NAACP award-winner for No Place to be Somebody at Robey Theatre Company and An Accident at Griot Theatre Company; The Heal at Getty Villa) and Pam Trotter (And Her Hair Went With Her at the Fountain, national tour of The Color Purple) portray three startlingly modern slave women.

An Octoroon brutally satirizes racial stereotypes in a funny and profoundly tragic whirlwind of images and dialogue that forces audiences to look at, laugh at, and be shattered by America’s racist history.

“The more you experience this play, the more it turns into something else,” says Moreland. “It’s an extraordinary piece of theater — hilarious, but also shocking, profound, moving… and designed to provoke and offend. We have a terrific group of actors who are completely game and up for the challenge. It’s a celebration of how theater can both move you and change lives.”

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellows Program, commonly but unofficially known as the “Genius Grant,” awards no strings attached cash prizes to individuals who demonstrate “extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.” The website described Jacobs-Jenkins as “a playwright [who draws] from a range of contemporary and historical theatrical genres to engage frankly with complicated issues around identity, family, class and race. Many of Jacobs-Jenkins’s plays use a historical lens to satirize and comment on modern culture, particularly the ways in which race and class are negotiated in both private and public settings. Although the provocation of his audience is purposeful, Jacobs-Jenkins’s creation of unsettling, shocking, often confrontational moments is not gratuitous; these elements are of a piece with the world he has established on stage and in the service of the story he is telling.”

The Fountain Theatre creative team includes scenic designer Frederica Nascimento, lighting designer Derrick McDaniel, sound designer Marc Antonio Pritchett, video designer Nicholas E. Santiago, costume designer Naila Aladdin Sanders; prop master Michael Allen Angel; choreographer Annie Yee; fight director Jen Albert; and dramaturg Dr. Daphnie Sicré. The production stage manager is Emily Lehrer, assistant stage manager is Deena Tovar, and production manager for the Fountain’s outdoor stage is Shawna Voragen. Stephen Sachs and Simon Levy co-produce for the Fountain Theatre, and the associate producer is James Bennett. Barbara Herman and Susan Stockel are executive producers.

The Fountain’s outdoor stage is made possible, in part, by the generous support of Karen Kondazian, Barbara Herman, the Vladimir and Araxia Buckhantz Foundation, Rabbi Anne Brener, Carrie Chassin and Jochen Haber, Miles and Joni Benickes, and the Phillips-Gerla Family.

The Fountain Theatre is one of the most successful intimate theaters in Los Angeles, providing a creative home for multi-ethnic theater and dance artists. The Fountain has won hundreds of awards, and Fountain projects have been seen across the U.S. and internationally.

An Octoroon runs June 18 through Sept.19, with performances on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays at 7 p.m., except Saturday, June 19, which will be at 5 p.m. and will be followed by a special Juneteenth event, and July 30 through Aug. 2 and Aug. 27 through Aug. 30 which will be dark. Four preview performances will take place on June 11, June 12, June 13 and June 16 at 7 p.m. There will be one press preview on Thursday, June 17 at 7 p.m. Tickets range from $25–$45; Pay-What-You-Want seating is available every Monday night in addition to regular seating (subject to availability). The Fountain Theatre is located at 5060 Fountain Avenue (at Normandie) in Los Angeles.For reservations and information, call (323) 663-1525 or go to www.FountainTheatre.com.

Now Casting: L.A. Premiere of ‘An Octoroon’ opens new Outdoor Stage at Fountain Theatre

The Fountain Theatre is now casting roles for its Los Angeles Premiere of the Obie Award-winning play, An Octoroon, by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins. The production will launch the new Outdoor Stage at the Fountain Theatre. Judith Moreland directs.

Rehearsal Dates: 5/12/2021 – 6/10/2021

Preview Dates: 6/11/2021 – 6/16/2021

Opening Date: 6/18/2021

Closing Date: 9/19/2021

Performance Schedule: Fridays – Mondays 7pm

ROLES:

[BJJ/George/M’Closky]

30 to 45 years old, Black/African American male. A frustrated contemporary playwright.  Probing, idealistic, quick-witted, mocking. Puts on whiteface to make sense of Boucicault’s 19th century melodrama, playing both the cartoonish white villain (M’Closky) and the white hero (George) who falls in love Zoe. Seeking a skilled versatile actor who moves well. Strong sense of comedic timing a must. 

[Assistant/Pete/Paul]

30 to 45 years old, male. Native American, Asian, Middle Eastern or South Asian. Seeking fearless versatile actor to don blackface to play older slave Pete (offensive caricature —think Stepin Fetchit) and Paul (cartoonish pickaninny-type slave child—think Alfalfa from Our Gang). Actor must find the humanity in these disturbing stereotypical characters. 

[ZOE]

25 to 35 years old, female. Caucasian, Biracial, or multi-racial. White in appearance, Zoe is The Octoroon (person 1/8th Black by descent) of the title. Raised as a white-passing free woman but legally a slave. Educated, kind-hearted, dutiful, loyal – yet filled with self-loathing. Treated as though she has no mind of her own and no right to make her own decisions. Seeking classically-trained actress to bring heart to Zoe’s tragic journey.

[DORA]

30 to 40 years old, Caucasian female. A fading Southern Belle. Self-absorbed, privileged, spoiled, a wealthy plantation heiress vying for George’s affection.  Actress must have strong comic timing.

[MINNIE]

35 to 50 years old, Black/African American female. House slave on the plantation, new at the job. Brash, unfiltered, no-nonsense, opinionated. A gossip. A slave, yet her language is modern. Must have strong comic timing.    

[DIDO]

35 to 45 years old, Black/African American female. Long-time house slave on the plantation. Wise, responsible, dry, with a sly sense of humor. Knows her place, as well as where the bodies are buried. A slave, yet her language is modern. Must have strong comic timing. 

[GRACE]

25 to 30 years old, Black/African American female. Pregnant domestic slave. Jaded, cynical. Not afraid to call things out with her own realistic spin, stand up for herself, or use her fists if she needs to.  Yearns to run away, even though she is pregnant. A slave, yet her language is modern. Must have strong comic timing.   

STORYLINE:

An Octoroon is a play about a play. A modern-day Black playwright is struggling to find his voice among a chorus of people telling him what he should and should not be writing. He adapts his favorite play, The Octoroon by Dion Boucicault, a 19th-century melodrama about illicit interracial love written seven years after Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The Black Playwright quickly realizes that getting white, male actors of today to play evil slave owners will not be easy. So, he decides to play the white male roles himself – in whiteface. What ensues is an upside down, topsy-turvy world where race and morality are challenged, mocked and savagely intensified. A highly stylized, theatrical, melodramatic reality is created to tell the story of an octoroon woman (a person who is ⅛ black) named Zoe and her quest for identity and love. Racial stereotypes are brutally satirized. Funny and profoundly tragic, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ An Octoroon is a whirlwind of images and dialogue that forces audiences to look at, laugh at, and be shattered by America’s racist history. Winner of the OBIE Award for Best New American Play.

To submit: Via Breakdown Services and Actors Access.

Questions? Email us at casting@fountaintheatre.com

Actress/Director Lisa Strum to share hilarious and poignant solo work on ‘Saturday Matinee’

by France-Luce Benson

Lisa Strum, a Philadelphia native living and working in the New York area is a director, an educator, actress, playwright, producer, casting director, singer and a certified wedding officiant! I’d add to that list truth teller, world traveler, and cherished friend. Her soulful voice and infectious laugh make her a powerful presence on stage and off, and her sharp wit, insightful observations, and wicked sense of humor are what makes her work so compelling. An award-winning actor, she’s starred in some of American theatre’s most celebrated plays, including Wilson’s Fences, Morriseau’s Pipleline, and Nottage’s Sweat. But lately, it is her work as a director that is getting everyone’s attention. I am lucky enough to have had her direct two of my own plays – Fall at the Ensemble Studio Theatre in New York, and Nanã for the All Hands on Deck Virtual play Festival. She also directed a Kennedy Center Award winning production of For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enough, and is currently directing Flyin West at Five Towns College. On this week’s installment of “Saturday Matinees”, Strum will perform from her original works She Gon Learn, An Actor Prepares, and Poetic Tirades. I sat down with her to discuss her journey from actor to director, and the beauty of acceptance.

F.L.B. What led you to directing?

L.S.   I dabbled in directing while I was in undergrad; directing one acts and short scenes. But it wasn’t until I was hired by Carl Johnson to act as the Theatre Specialist for the Abrons Arts Center Summer Program at Henry Street Settlement that my directing skills really began to take shape. I discovered that I had a strong visual eye to tell stories on the stage and to get great performances out of the actors I was working with – regardless of their experience or their age. There was always a mainstage show at the end of the 5 weeks of the summer program of an original devised theatre piece created by the students. The show also included dance, singing and a set, so there was constant collaboration between the voice, dance and visual arts instructors throughout the summer and year after year we generated some incredible work together. It was exciting being the conductor of all of this collaborative work. I became hooked. And I just liked telling people what to do! LOL!

F.L.B. – What has been keeping you sane?

Staying connected with friends and family. Preparing and cooking home cooked meals. Laughter. Lots of laughter! Movies from my teenage years. And simply accepting the reality of the situation we are living in right now. Adaption and going with the flow are key. Many people realized during the quarantine how much they needed a break from the constant hustle and rat race. I didn’t realize how much I needed to be still. With all the constraints we’ve been under because of COVID-19, I’ve found peace within the boundaries. It’s been an amazing way to stay focused and to stay in the moment.

FLB. – What gives you hope?

L.S. The will of the human spirit and the ability to adapt and find joy regardless of the circumstances.

France-Luce Benson is a playwright and the Community Engagement Coordinator for the Fountain Theatre.

“Cosmic forces” brought actor Rob Nagle to ‘Human Interest Story’ at Fountain Theatre

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Rob Nagle and Tanya Alexander in Human Interest Story.

by Gil Kaan

A stalwart member of the Los Angeles Theatre community, the multi-award-winning Rob Nagle will next be appearing on The Fountain Theatre stage in the world premiere of Stephen Sachs‘ HUMAN INTEREST STORY, opening February 15, 2020. Rob essays Andy Kramer, who just having been laid off, fabricates a letter to the editor; then, has to mastermind an elaborate charade to justify it. Rob’s HUMAN INTEREST STORY onstage accomplices include: Tanya AlexanderRichard AzurdiaAleisha ForceJames Harper, Matt Kirkwood and Tarina Pouncy.

The ever-busy Rob managed to find some time to answer a few of my queries.

What criteria do you look for in taking on a new role/character?

I try to keep a very open mind when I am first looking at a new role. I read the script, trying to keep my mind a tabula rasa, a blank slate, so that I do not have any preconceptions about what I am reading, and I can simply respond to the material. I want to see if it is a story that I would like to tell, and then I more closely examine if the character says things that I would like to say. It does not matter whether or not I agree with the character’s point of view; the story and the words just need to resonate for me. Once the part and the script have passed muster for me, I then consider the people involved in the project and the place where it will be performed. After that, I take a look at the pay. But it’s never really about the pay for me, it’s about the story.

What cosmic forces of creativity first brought you together with this new world premiere by Stephen Sachs?

The cosmic forces of creativity seem to work when you stay involved in the Los Angeles theatre community. I have admired Stephen’s work for many years now, and apparently he mine, as well. In January of 2018, he invited me to take part in a one-night-only reading of ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN in the Council Chambers at Los Angeles City Hall. I believe that was our first creative foray together. In July of 2019, he asked me take part in an early read of HUMAN INTEREST STORY, then titled JANE DOE. I was reading a different role, but I loved what he was doing with this script.

If you were writing a letter of recommendation for Andy, what qualities of his would you emphasize?

His tenacity and strength of purpose. His empathy and his heart. His curiosity and searching nature. And his passion for telling stories.

What character flaws would you sugarcoat?

His pride. His ego. And the little boy who is still seeking his father’s approval.

What for you, Rob Nagle, would be the most satisfying thoughts/emotions audience leave The Fountain Theatre with after your HUMAN INTEREST STORY curtain call?

I hope all of our hearts grow a little bit while we’re all together experiencing this play. Maybe we’ll think a little differently about all those ideas we were so certain of when we walked in and sat down together, all the things we think we know about the world. I hope audiences feel an enlarged sense of compassion, greater understanding and deeper concern for their fellow human beings, no matter the color or gender or creed. We all tend to take care of our own circles of family and friends – but there are people out there who have been kicked out of their circles, or who have wandered out of them, or who have lost their connections to them. They are worthy of our care, of our attention, and even of our love. There are eight million stories in this naked city, and every homeless person you encounter can tell you one of them. I hope we start talking less, and listening a little more.

Get tickets to HUMAN INTEREST STORY

This post originally appeared on BroadwayWorld.com. 

VIDEO: ‘Riverside’ actor Montae Russell hails The Fountain Theatre as “a top-notch organization.”

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Lesley Fera: The intimacy of the Fountain’s ‘Between Riverside and Crazy’ is “magical”

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Actor Montae Russell gets in the zone for ‘Between Riverside and Crazy’ at the Fountain Theatre

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Montae Russell in “Between Riverside and Crazy” at the Fountain Theatre.

By Darlene Donloe

Montae Russell is well known throughout Los Angeles theater circles for playing meaty roles. He’s played Charlie “Bird” Parker in Bird Lives!, Memphis in Two Trains Running and Elmore in a production of King Hedley II. He also played Mister on Broadway in King Hedley II opposite Viola Davis and Leslie Uggams.

Up next for the veteran thespian is a complicated, determined man named Walter “Pops” Washington who has declared war on almost everything in the Stephen Adly Guirgis 2015 Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy-drama Between Riverside and Crazy, opening October 19 at the Fountain Theatre in Hollywood.

Russell, a Pittsburgh native is ready to take on the role. While talking to him about the show and “Pops”, the 50-something, married (Tonia), father of one, walked around a local park to let the imagery of the play and the character “sink in.”  It’s a process, he said allows him to be “closer to where I need to be” when he hits the stage.

Russell’s first acting role came in the seventh grade when he played Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. His first professional play was in the off-Broadway production of Three Ways Home at the Astor Place Theater in New York.

Eventually he brought his talent to Los Angeles where he became a respected film, television and theater actor.

A highly sought after actor, Russell had to decide between doing August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean and Between Riverside and Crazy. He said it was a hard decision, but he read something in the “Pops” character that spoke to him.

In Between Riverside and Crazy, the 2015 Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy-drama by Stephen Adly Guirgis, ex-cop and recent widower Walter ‘Pops’ Washington has made a home for his newly paroled son in his sprawling, rent-controlled New York City apartment on Riverside Drive. But now the NYPD is demanding his signature to close an outstanding lawsuit, the landlord wants him out, the liquor store is closed, and the church is on his back — leaving Pops somewhere between Riverside… and crazy.

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Montae Russell and Victory Anthony in “Between Riverside and Crazy”

I recently caught up with Russell to discuss his role in Between Riverside and Crazy.

DD:  In your own words, describe Between Riverside and Crazy.

MR: I really can’t describe it because I’m in the midst of it. Well, from my character’s perspective,  he was a cop who was shot by a white cop eight years ago. The cop overreacted when he saw black people in a bar. My character is in a battle with NYPD. He’s living in a rent-controlled apartment on Riverside Drive. The landlord wants him out so he can charge more rent.

But my character is dug in. He’s not backing down.   His son is an ex-con. He is fighting for his son. Every father wants his son to become a man. He is also fighting a war with himself. He has war with a lot of people. He has a battle with the bottle and his body. He has stress and strife.  There are external forces and an internal battle within himself. Sometimes it’s not about annihilating your opponent. Sometimes you just have to sign a truce.

DD: In what way are you like Pop and in what way are you the furthest from Pop?

MR: I’m a fighter, but I don’t have as many wars. I have a stubborn streak. I don’t have multiple wars, though. I don’t have people coming at me as he does. But, I can understand what it would be like. I respect the character. I just fight differently. 

DD: Why did you want to play this part?

MR: When I read it, I cracked up. A lot of things about the character made me laugh. He is raging a war with God, or with his beliefs because of all the things that have happened. You can’t win that war.  It’s a very hilarious play. Pops is pulling no punches. He doesn’t care. He is the master of his domain. He’s a very funny cat. He’s not a rabble-rouser. He’s not an activist. He’s a conservative – but not in a social way – more of an interpersonal way. He’s a traditional man, an old school man. He comes from a time when you controlled your emotions.

DD: How did you go about developing Pop?

MR: It’s a day-by-day thing. We’ll be developing until the end of the play in December. Different stuff is revealed each time you crack open the script. There is constant tweaking.

He’s not funny, Ha, Ha. He’s funny concerning his perspectives. Living like that can cause problems. You have to give a fuck at some point. You have to give a fuck about something.

DD: Have you ever been between Riverside and crazy?

MR:  You would have to ask the people around me.

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Montae Russell, Joshua Bitton, Lesley Fera, Marisol Miranda, Matthew Hancock.

DD: By what criteria do you decide to do a show?

MR: It has to be a challenge. I have to think I can bring something to it. It’s about what speaks to me. I was supposed to do Gem of the Ocean. I was going to play Caesar. Both shows were going up at the same time. I opted to do this instead. It’s difficult to turn down a role like Caesar. It would have also been difficult to turn down this role.

DD: You’ve played a lot of characters. What role did you nail?

MR: I try to do that all the time. I enjoyed playing Memphis in Two Trains Running. August Wilson front-loads his characters with a lot of stuff they are dealing with. The character challenged me. It felt good that I concurred it. The stuff he has to live through. His backstory – all of that comes into the show.  You’re responsible for the backstory even if it doesn’t come up in the play.

DD:  How do you prepare to go on stage?  Any rituals?

MR: I gotta be at the theater at least 45 minutes before I’m supposed to be there. I have to have food in my stomach to power through the show. It’s just like a sporting event. You can’t keep running back to the locker room. I like to warm up my voice. I warm up my diction and I stretch.  I need to be by myself and get in my space. I like to get in my zone.

DD:  Why did you want to be an actor?

MR: A lot of people today don’t know what they want to do. I was blessed at 13 – that’s when I knew. From there, I got green lights all the way. One job led to another. August Wilson wrote my letter of recommendation to get into Rutgers. He reached back.

DD: What happens to you when you’re on stage?

MR: It allows you to go to another world. Your imagination has to buy it. It’s the same concept when doing a show. We are on stage being looked at by an audience. That to me is fun. It’s nice to get away from the real world and step into someone else’s shoes for a while.

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This post originally appeared on Donloe’s Lowdown

VIDEO: Actress Lesley Fera says ‘Between Riverside and Crazy’ is “incredible.” Don’t miss it!