In the New York City Center studios, rehearsals are just beginning for Encores! Off-Center’s second musical of season, Promenade, playing July 10–11.
The leads, James T. Lane and Kent Overshown, have just met for the first time. Bonnie Milligan is excited to jump out of a cake. And Saundra Santiago is reminiscing about the time she auditioned for bookwriter and playwright María Irene Fornés.
Fornés, considered the mother of avant-garde and absurdist theatre, is the reason these actors are all together.
Written by Fornés with music by Al Carmines, Promenade the story of two escaped convicts who find themselves mingling with an cross section of society in a place known only as The City.
To celebrate the work of Fornés, Playbill spoke to the cast to learn more about their own absurdist past.
"I played a singing king in a Shakespeare-esque show called The Knight of the Burning Pestle," said James T. Lane. "It was wacky and zany. I was 15 years old, so anything about the box of musical theatre seemed very weird and strange to me."
Kent Overshown also has an early history with the absurd. "When I was 14 years old, I was an apprentice with the Oakland Opera Theatre and we did a production of Four Saints in Three Acts [by Virgil Thomson and Gertrude Stein], which is similar musically as well as lyrically to Promenade," said Overshown, who is making his NYC principal role debut in Promenade.
Head Over Heels star Bonnie Milligan played multiple roles in Ryan Scott Oliver’s Jasper in Deadland. "There were six of us who delved into a lot of mini-characters. You just had to go in and go big. Inhabiting the underworld, I played a Norse god and random fiendish villains," Milligan said.
Becca Blackwell’s most absurd role to date: "I guess myself. I think my own body and being [trans] is something that's really complicated for people to deal with. Being an artist and actor in New York for 25 years, I had a hard time being a part of traditional shows because there weren't parts for people like me."
Broadway vet Eddie Cooper, who played Audrey II in the Encores! Off-Center production of Little Shop of Horrors, said, "I think a man-eating plant is pretty absurd."
Saundra Santiago said there are plenty of roles to choose from. "A couple of years ago, I played Amanda Wingfield. I wouldn't call her absurdist but she is kind of bizarre," said the Miami Vice star. "So, I really had fun with her."
Bryonha Marie Parham’s most absurd? "I immediately thought of Effie, because when I think of absurd, I think of extremes," referring to the Dreamgirls character. "In a lot of moments at the beginning, Effie is docile, sweet, and shy. And then she turns into this super-reactive, aggressive, all-feeling woman."
Parham added that while Effie isn’t absurd in the traditional sense, "I've never played a character who visited those extremes so frequently and so quickly. As an actor, it feels a little absurd when you're singing 'And I'm Telling You' to an empty [stage]."