By then an Obie winner and Oscar nominee, Washington debuted in Ron Milner's Checkmates, starring in a role he originated in the play's Los Angeles premiere.
Though the play also boasted the award-winning talents of Ruby Dee and Paul Winfield, the production was troubled from the start. New York Times reviewer Frank Rich wrote, "While it's easy to name a recent Broadway play or two as awful as Checkmates, it may be necessary to get out the scrapbooks to recall one quite so amateurish and boring."
Following its August opening, the production frequently played to houses below half capacity; in December, the show's co-producer Michael Harris was convicted of attempted murder in connection with an international cocaine ring. Shortly thereafter, the show announced it would close Jan. 1, 1989. But Washington's rising star emerged untarnished, and the following year he would win his first Academy Award for his performance in "Glory."
Holed up in a seedy motel on the edge of the Mojave Desert, two former lovers unpack the deep secrets and dark desires of their tangled relationship, passionately tearing each other apart. Led by director Daniel Aukin (Back Back Back at MTC, 4,000 Miles), Tony winner Nina Arianda (Venus in Fur at MTC, Born Yesterday) and Sam Rockwell (A Behanding in Spokane, The Way Way Back) bring an explosive intensity to Sam Shepard’s (Buried Child, True West) landmark myth of the new Wild West.