Tony Nomination Is Career Highlight for Veteran Actor Roger Robinson

By Adam Hetrick
02 Jun 2009

Roger Robinson
Roger Robinson
Photo by Aubrey Reuben

Roger Robinson, who portrays the shaman-like Bynum Walker in the Broadway revival of Joe Turner's Come and Gone, is currently enjoying his second Tony nomination for a performance in an August Wilson play.

"It's been tremendous. It's been a joy. It's been one of the great highlights of my long career," Robinson remarked at the recent Tony nominees press reception. The actor began his career in New York theatre in 1963 and received his first Tony nomination for his portrayal of Hedley in Wilson's Seven Guitars in 1996.

"It's always great to be honored," Robinson said of his work in his latest role, one of late playwright Wilson's signature mystics, who weave the all-too-human lives of the playwright's characters into a broader cultural tapestry.

Robinson also spoke of his work with Tony-winning director Bartlett Sher, who staged Joe Turner. It had been Wilson's intent that his plays should give rise to the work of fellow African-American theatre artists, and some eyebrows were raised when Lincoln Center Theater announced that a white director would stage the first revival of Joe Turner.

Robinson dismissed the "so-called controversy," explaining, "Bartlett is such a unique individual. He's just brilliant. It wasn't always peaches and cream, but mostly peaches though, and it was fun. . . Bartlett is exceptional in that he has very little ethnic or religious imprinting on him like we, or a lot of people do in our society, so he can see the humanity. Also, he respects, or respected, those of us who have been in the culture longer than he has, and he was able to listen.



"When we didn't feel that something was right, we would say to him 'That's not right, or you can't do that, or we can't do that,'" Robinson continued. "Sometimes it erred on the side of theatricality for effect, but he really respects black people and our culture, African-Americans' culture."

Robinson also praised the company of actors with whom he shares the stage at the Belasco Theatre. His one regret about the Tonys is the awards have yet to create a category to honor the work of ensembles on Broadway. "I wish they would give a Tony for Best Ensemble and honor ensembles. Because then our company would be in the running. We'd all be nominated; we'd all be here today."