STAGE VIEWS: Tony Nominee and King Hedley II Star André De Shields On Between Riverside and Crazy, The Wiz, Chita Rivera and More

News   STAGE VIEWS: Tony Nominee and King Hedley II Star André De Shields On Between Riverside and Crazy, The Wiz, Chita Rivera and More's series features actors commenting on their recent theatregoing experiences, what productions they're looking forward to and more.

Andr Photo by Lia Chang

Here, via email, we hear from two-time Tony nominee Andre De Shields, who is currently starring in Arena Stage's production of the late August Wilson's King Hedley II.

What show recently impressed you? 
Just prior to the transitioning of 2014 into 2015, I experienced Theatre For A New Audience's production of Christopher Marlowe's Tamburlaine, Parts I and II, starring John Douglas Thompson in the titular role, and directed by Michael Boyd. I've been a fierce fan of John's ever since he played Edgar opposite my Lear—and thereby making me a more fearless actor—in the 2006 production of Shakespeare's King Lear at the Classical Theatre of Harlem, directed by Alfred Preisser. In the interim I've witnessed to varying levels of uncustomary satisfaction his Othello, his Emperor Jones and his Louis Armstrong. However, it wasn't until he embodied in mythic proportion the slaughter-thirsty butcher Tamburlaine that I realized that I was in the presence of a master. It was a teaching moment regarding the sensual appeal of misguided heroism. As a matter of meta-thought, I believe that John Douglas Thompson may very be creating a new archetype: The Errant Genius.

What production are you most excited to see?
There are three productions for which I hold great expectation. The first evokes a second nod to Theatre For A New Audience. It is high time that we regularly discuss on American stages the insanity of the heretofore-taboo subject of this country's intricately nuanced cultural hierarchy, based on the percentage of Negro blood an individual possesses. Well, in TFANA's upcoming production of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins' Octoroon, that salacious practice is poised to explode like a cultural I.E.D. I want to be there for the fireworks.

The second production stars Stephen McKinley Henderson in Stephen Adly Guirgis' Between Riverside and Crazy, directed by Austin Pendleton, and due for a revival at Second Stage. Henderson is a longstanding colleague and an enormously inspiring actor, confident and stalwart. Guirgis is a gut-punching playwright. Pendleton and I once alternated in the role of Sigmund Freud in a play inspired by Freud's first case history based on the psychoanalysis of a child. Such pedigree in the intimate venue that is Second Stage promises an unpredictable walk on the wild side.

The third is the hotly anticipated production of the Broadway-bound The Visit, featuring three of my favorite artists, Chita Rivera, Roger Rees and Jason Danieley. 'Nuff said. What play/musical would you most like to revive on Broadway, and which role would you want to play?
The Wiz. And, please, allow me to disabuse the readership of any reference to the 1978 film version. A revival of The Wiz must use as its muse the original concept of the production that won seven Tony Awards in 1975, including Best Musical. 40 years later, The Wiz does not need improving, nor does it require layers of gimmicks and tricks. What The Wiz deserves is a faithful re-creation of the wildly exciting and enormously classy, groundbreaking musical that touched so many lives, across generations, ethnicity, religion, nationality, gender and every other bias-friendly artifice. Correctly revived, The Wiz can finally assume its rightful position in the canon of classic American musicals. Moreover, I want to play the role of director.

What are your current/upcoming projects?
Currently, I am rehearsing the role of "Stool Pigeon" in August Wilson's King Hedley II, directed by Timothy Douglass, and scheduled to run … through March 8 at Arena Stage in Washington, DC. It is my first time working with Timothy. It is my debut at Arena Stage, and my maiden voyage into the poetically daunting world of August Wilson. It is quite the teaching moment. An actor may re-dream, may he not?

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