ACT­ING OUT Har­lem Re­nais­sance comes alive

GA Voice - - Arts Reviews - By JIM FARMER

For ac­tor Ty­rone Mitchell Hen­der­son, “Blues for an Alabama Sky” has been one of the high­lights of a lengthy act­ing ca­reer. The Al­liance Theatre’s 20th an­niver­sary pro­duc­tion of the play, writ­ten by lo­cal leg­end Pearl Cleage, closes out the com­pany’s 2014-2015 sea­son. It’s the story of the Har­lem Re­nais­sance and the cavalcade of African-Amer­i­can artists work­ing around at the time who were even­tu­ally af­fected by the Great De­pres­sion. Hen­der­son, who is gay, plays Guy, a gay char­ac­ter in the drama. The per­former lives in Wee­hawken, New Jer­sey, and has done TV and film. His main gigs, how­ever, have been on the stage at re­gional the­aters across the coun­try, in­clud­ing Berke­ley, where he worked in play­wright Tony Kushner’s epic “The In­tel­li­gent Ho­mo­sex­ual’s Guide to Cap­i­tal­ism and So­cial­ism with a Key to the Scrip­tures.” We caught up with the ac­tor as he and the cast were prep­ping to open the “Blues” re­mount.

You’re an Al­liance Theatre vet­eran, we hear?

This is my third show here. I did “An­gels in Amer­ica” there, di­rected by (for­mer Al­liance artis­tic direc­tor) Kenny Leon. I be­lieve it was one of the first re­gional theater pro­duc­tions of Parts One and Two it while it was run­ning on Broad­way. Tony Kushner had a chance to come check it out, which was awe­some. And then eight years ago I did “In­ti­mate Ap­parel” at the Al­liance, which (cur­rent Al­liance Theatre artis­tic direc­tor) Su­san Booth di­rected.

This isn’t your first time in the role of Guy, cor­rect?

I played Guy in a Hunt­ing­ton, Mas­sachusetts pro­duc­tion that Kenny di­rected af­ter the orig­ina–al At­lanta pro­duc­tion. Phyli­cia Rashad and Dei­drie Henry were in it in At­lanta and I came up for it. I had just fin­ished do­ing “An­gels in Amer­ica” with Kenny, and he asked me to do it there. Crys­tal Fox, who stars as An­gel in this At­lanta pro­duc­tion, was in it and I’ve known her for 20 years. When it came time to do an an­niver­sary of it my name came into the mix. They called and I said yes.

Tell us about your char­ac­ter, Guy.

He is a cos­tume designer. He and An­gel grew up in Sa­van­nah and both wound up at a house of ill re­pute. They met there, saved money and moved to Har­lem. He is try­ing to make his way to Paris, try­ing to re­con­nect with Josephine Baker, a few years his ju­nior. He wants to de­sign for her.

As a gay man, what does the char­ac­ter mean to you?

Pri­mar­ily he has big dreams and he is headed to­ward them. He is some­one who does not live in­side a box. He is his own per­son. I connect with him. He is un­afraid and un­apolo­getic.

Why does the play hold up so well?

When I first think of it, I think of it from an ed­u­ca­tional stand­point, be­cause so lit­tle of the Har­lem Re­nais­sance is avail­able to stu­dents to­day. But for peo­ple who al­ready know

I feel she is the heart of this. Her writ­ing is so nat­u­ral­is­tic. She drops pearls of wis­dom. She is open and valu­able. She takes it all in and brings a won­der­ful at­mos­phere.

What’s next for you?

I re­cently started a theater com­pany, Quick Sil­ver Theater Com­pany, and we have a pro­duc­tion in the fall. Af­ter I fin­ish here, I head back home and work on that. That’s one of the things [about theater]—you can get a stand­ing ova­tion on a Sun­day and then Mon­day, who knows what the world has open for you? Be­sides that, I’ll be au­di­tion­ing and see­ing what comes next.

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