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Off stage, it's the opposite story: "To be with veterans like Cicely Tyson and Vanessa Williams, to be coddling me and nurturing me through this experience has been something I will never forget," he declared. "I came from Shakespeare Festivals in high school, went from that to television and film, so this is always the end game—to get back on stage, but to do it as a debut on Broadway has really been fantastic!"
Tom Wopat also gets some sympathetic licks in as the sheriff who is sent to fetch the elderly runaway. The character came, in fictionalized Foote fashion, from an actual lawman in Foote country. "He was definitely supposed to be a racist," the actor admitted, "but he also was such a politician that he worked with the black community because they had votes and they elected him. He actually worked very hard for them. He had a national radio program in the '50's and appeared in Life, Look and The Saturday Evening Post, but he was known for being fair-minded."
Like Williams, Wopat has a musical-theatre gene and wins Tony nominations with it. "My new CD's called 'I've Got Your Number," he said. "We did a date at 54 Below in February, playing it from beginning to end, and we expect to come back. Somewhere in the fall, I'm going to do a week somewhere. We're talking to the Carlyle." Another possibility is a night at Birdland, and for that he wouldn't have to leave 43rd Street.
Another surprised by the laughs she got was Condola Rashad, who plays a white-gloved young soldier's wife who assists the fragile Carrie in her getaway. "You never expect some things to be funny, and then they turn out to be funny," she said with a happy go-figure shrug. "This is a lovely role, I must say. She's a very delicate girl but very strong at the same time. I like how much respect she has for Mrs. Watts."
Rashad didn't immediately snap up the role, she confessed. "It's so subtle I almost didn't pick it up, really. I saw what it was, and I knew what it was about, but I didn't understand it till I talked to the director. He opened my eyes to what the challenges are to this play, which upped the stakes immediately for me. So I went back, thinking, 'Maybe I'm not reading right.' I reread it and said, 'Okay, I see it now.'"
Director Wilson, who directed a superb Caucasian version of this play Off-Broadway eight years ago, knows the play's emotional roadmap by heart—especially by heart—and simply transferred the same human needs of the characters to African-Americans—a seamless exercise that points up the timeless universality of the play.
In addition to the people above, he outfitted it pretty much with The Horton Foote Stock Company—worthies like Devon Abner, Arthur French, Curtis Billings, Pat Bowie and Charles Turner. In all, Wilson said, "there are 14 fantastic actors who have come together to tell, arguably, Horton's greatest masterpiece—certainly his most popular and most known play. I personally believe it belongs, really, on the same shelf as Death of a Salesman, A Streetcar Named Desire and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
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