Condola Rashad has earned Tony Award nominations for three out of her four trips to Broadway, all for featured actress in a play (the most recent was just last year, for A Doll’s House, Part 2). Now she’s ready to take on her first true starring role in George Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan, now in previews at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre.
So in a career that has seen her working with such stage greats as Cicely Tyson and Laurie Metcalf, has she picked up any leading lady lessons?
“My whole life, I feel like I’m surrounded by leading ladies and so I think that I just soaked in a lot of good stuff from everybody that I’ve worked with,” Rashad says. “My mom [Phylicia Rashad], my mom is my number one leading lady. It’s really about being a team leader.”
Which makes Rashad perfectly suited to tackle Shaw’s Joan. More ambivalent than other retellings of the teenage girl who heard the voice of God urging France to reclaim its land from the British, there are no clear-cut villains in Shaw’s version; that choice makes the story of Joan’s triumph, her trial, and her eventual death at the stake all the more powerful.
“The most important thing about that is it allows an audience member to have questions. What if everybody is thinking that they’re doing the right thing? What does that make me feel for that person?” Rashad says. “But people don’t want to do that. It’s so much easier to have villains because when you have a villain you don’t have to ask questions.”
Rashad herself is full of questions about Joan and the historical truth (the trial was exceedingly well-documented for the era). But one book she has yet to crack is Holly Hill’s Playing Joan: Actresses on the Challenge of Shaw’s Saint Joan.
“It’s literally a book of [interviews with] all of these phenomenal actors that have played her,” Rashad says with a laugh. “It’s a whole book about how hard it is! I died when I found that out. I was like, ‘Oh, great, I’m definitely going to do this play! I’m going to buy this book and I’m going to read it the day after we close.’”