There is nothing like live theater. The very act of an actor or actors going on a stage and performing in front of a new group of people every night is an original experience. An actor could say something a certain way and completely change the tone of a scene. A light could blow, or a cell phone could ring (I think we covered why this better not happen) but the actor has to play off that or ignore that or embrace that. Welcome to the mystery of theater.
But. What if no one knows what is going to happen on stage including the actor? What if an entire production is shrouded in mystery, the website tells you not to google the play.
Enter White Rabbit Red Rabbit.
It is the latest effort from playwright Nassim Soleimanpour. His play has been performed all around the world. Here is what might google did say about the play:
“The actor about to perform has never seen it. In fact, there is a new actor every performance, and they’ve only been told what is absolutely necessary.”
We were not satisfied with that answer. So we tapped veteran actor Reg. E. Cathey, who will be the A-List actor performing in White Rabbit Red Rabbit at 8 p.m. tonight at the Westside Theater, to give us any information. But the mystery was even more exciting for him.
“The idea of doing a cold play is challenging,” he said. “When first approached I googled the project and, after a few sentences, immediately stopped. I knew I wanted to do it. And I didn’t want to spoil any of the experience and did not want , even unconsciously, to plan anything. I want to take the journey completely open and free. It is what ultimately attracted me to the piece. But Freedom is terrifying…. It’s very exciting.”
Thank God we trust Cathey who has wowed us consistently in roles. His resume of television work is like a master class for how to get on iconic shows. Let’s name drop a few, “The Wire,” “Oz” and now “House of Cards.” More extraordinary than the shows is the type of characters is plays. Always drenched in integrity, always fighting insurmountable odds. How does he pick his roles?
“The practice of choosing a role is relatively new,” Cathey said. “There was the audition and there was the offer. If you’re lucky. The choice was what audition time was best! One difference for Black actors was choosing not to audition for the ‘Coon Role.'”
“Upon becoming a professional actor, more than a few decades past, Black actors were expected not to play certain roles. It was important that the Black image in popular culture and media be reflective of truth and not the racist stereotypes which had proliferated the zeitgeist for centuries. Sometimes it was difficult. The Legend of the Rent is way hardcore.”
Cathey emerged as an actor when the socio-economic landscape of the country was changing, and the larger questions of his art forced him to make many choices.
“The theatre scene, at that time, was changing due to volatile economic influences and the plague that was/is the AIDS epidemic but was still exciting, vibrant and much more inclusive,” Cathey said. “I learned how to act at Yale but learned how to be an actor in NYC. I escaped wandering lost in the desert that is Los Angeles after a decade (which I’ll never get back) and being psychically traumatized I didn’t audition for film and television immersing myself in the ‘Classics.’ The plan was to make money doing voiceovers and do theatre to live. It worked for three years! I stay in the Theatre and returned to film and television.”
Even with the success of the shows he was on Cathey returned to the stage over and over again. We asked him why?
“Diversity,” Cathey said. “Broadway giving Hollywood a beat down on that front. But I’m an old theatre weasel and I’ve seen it all before. Perhaps not on a Hamilton (which l loved) level but seen it I have. The Wiz, Soldiers Play, Dreamgirls were huge hits and we were all excited how it would usher more Black shows on the Great White Way.”
Along his journey not only did Cathey start getting recognized for his talent he recently won an Emmy for his work on House of Cards. We just knew the big scripts were being thrown through his front window. Cathey remained cautiously hopeful.
“Let’s see what happens,” Cathey said. “We Americans like to take one step forward then two steps back…see Donald Trump.”
In addition to loving the theater, Cathey has a particular affinity to Shakespeare which he can be seen returning to again and again in New York.
“It is and always will be a struggle to find good roles which is why Shakespeare is the gift that keeps on giving,” Cathey said. “Playing Shakespeare kept me sane when Hollywood chewed me up and threw me out. Always challenging. Always something new. Always room to stretch and grow.”
In fact, the theater continues to be generous to Cathey.
“Shakespeare. August Wilson. Art. Music. Dance. Literature – These make us Human,” Cathey said. “These are our better Angels.”
With Cathey performing tonight the theater experience is bound to be a bag of surprises. We asked if there was anything the actor has not played yet that excites him.
“My dream role has yet to be written,” Cathey said. “A jazz musician. A Bari-sax man. I play! Sigh. I probably should write it but that requires a different kind of discipline.”
Until that happens we have White Rabbit Red Rabbit. Purchase tickets here.
Iconic Entertainer Gregory Hines Honored With a Black Heritage Series Stamp
The U.S. Postal Service honored iconic entertainer Gregory Hines with a Black Heritage Series stamp in a ceremony on January 28th. As the 42nd entry in the series, the stamp featuring a 1988 photo of a smiling Hines is now available at Post Offices and usps.com.
At the ceremony Tony Award winner Savion Glover talked about the role Hines played in elevating tap into an art form and the value of his work. Joining him in the celebration were Maurice Hines, actor, dancer, choreographer, and Hines’ brother; Daria Hines, actress, costume designer, and Hines’ daughter; dancers Chloe and Maud Arnold; Tony Waag, the American Tap Dance Foundation’s artistic director, and tap dancer Jason Samuels Smith.
“I don’t exist without this man,” said Glover, “These young people that you see, they aren’t born without this. We are not here today without this.”
The Chief Postal Inspector, Gary Barksdale, who led the ceremony, said “Gregory Hines was an extraordinary artist in every sense of the word. This Forever stamp pays tribute to his life and career as an actor, singer and most importantly, as a performer whose unique style of tap dancing injected new artistry and excitement into a traditional American form.”
Gregory Hines’ Broadway credits include Eubie!, Sophisticated Ladies, & Comin’ Uptown, all of which garnered him Tony Award nominations. He became a Tony Award winner for his starring role in “Jelly’s Last Jam” in 1992. In 2003 he passed away at 57 years old from cancer.
Casts of Disney’s The Lion King, Frozen, & Aladdin Broadway Celebrate Black History Month
It’s a beautiful time to be Black on Broadway. For Black History Month, the casts of The Lion King, Aladdin, and Frozen on Broadway came together in a celebratory photo shoot with photographer Darnell Bennett involving 35+ company cast members.
Take a look at the behind-the-scenes video above and the accompanying photos below.
Cast members included The Lion King‘s Tryphena Wade, Lawrence Keith Alexander, Brian C. Binion, Lidiwe Dlamini, Donna Michelle Vaughn, LaMar Baylor, Kyle Lamar Mitchell, Bradley Gibson, Jamal Lee Harris, Elisha Bowmans, Ray Mercer, L. Steven Taylor, Bongi Duma, Kimberly Marable, Syndee Winters, Cameron Amandus, Pearl Khwezi, Jaysin McCollum, Angelica Edwards, India Bolds, Bonita Hamilton, Tshidi Manye, & Bravita Threatt.
Also, Noah Ricketts, Aisha Jackson, Donald Jones Jr. of Frozen, and Aladdin‘s Tyler Roberts, Paige Williams, Deonte L Warren, Tiffany Evariste, Major Attaway, Amber Owens, Jamie Kasey Patterson, April Holloway, Kathryn Allison, Ariel Reid, Juwan Crawley, Trent Saunders, Dennis Stowe, and Stanley Martin.
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