Kim Wayans finds her­self a heav­enly role

‘In Liv­ing Color’ alum stars in ‘An Act of God,’ open­ing at Bris­tol River­side The­atre

The Morning Call - - GO GUIDE - By John J. Moser

‘AN ACT OF GOD’ STAR­RING KIM WAYANS

For four years, ac­tress/come­di­enne Kim Wayans was one of the most mal­leable play­ers on the ground­break­ing hit FOX-TV sketch com­edy show “In Liv­ing Color.”

While she wasn’t as im­me­di­ately iden­ti­fi­able as Jim Car­rey’s Fire Mar­shall Bill, or her brother Da­mon Wayans’ Homey D. Clown, or David Alan Grier’s Men on Film char­ac­ter, she was the go-to for celebrity im­per­son­ations such as Oprah Win­frey, LaToya Jack­son, Whit­ney Hous­ton, Dionne War­wick and Tina Turner.

But start­ing to­day, when Bris­tol River­side The­atre kicks off its 33rd sea­son, Wayans will have the ul­ti­mate role.

She’ll play God.

Wayans has the ti­tle role in the sin­fully funny “An Act of God,” the Broad­way play writ­ten by

13-time Emmy Award win­ner David Javer­baum. They play is sched­uled to run for 28 per­for­mances, through Oct. 13.

Tick­ets, at $43-$45 and $10 child or stu­dent with ID, are avail­able at the the­ater box of­fice at 120 Rad­cliffe St., at brt­stage.org and 215-785-0100.

Wayans, in a phone in­ter­view from her Los An­ge­les home, says that in a 37-year pro­fes­sional ca­reer, this will be just her third the­ater role. Sev­eral years ago, she did a one-woman show she wrote — then she did “Bar­be­cue” at The Pub­lic The­ater in New York in 2015.

“But it’s some­thing that I kind of put it out there, in the uni­verse, I want to do more the­ater,” Wayans says, “be­cause I love the ex­pe­ri­ence and I love the chal­lenge. And so I think I drew this to me in some ways.”

The play is based on Javer­baum’s Twit­ter per­sona @TheTweet­ofGod, which has 6 mil­lion fol­low­ers. The au­di­ence is seated at the stair­case to Heaven, and God — as­sisted by an­gels Gabriel and Michael — an­swers some of the deep­est ques­tions that have plagued mankind since Cre­ation.

It’s de­scribed in pub­lic­ity ma­te­rial as “a men­tal romp around the Old and New Tes­ta­ments, with a dis­sat­is­fied God who, hav­ing grown weary of the orig­i­nal Ten Com­mand­ments, has ar­rived in the the­ater to of­fer new ver­sion … or a mod­ern world.”

Wayans said she had no reser­va­tion about be­ing a woman play­ing God (on Broad­way, it had Jim Par­sons of TV’s “The Big Bang The­ory,” then Sean Hayes of “Will & Grace” as God)

“I thought it was re­ally cool and very timely, you know, that [Bris­tol River­side The­atre found­ing di­rec­tor Su­san D. Atkin­son] thought in this di­rec­tion. We’ve seen enough men play God.

Why not a woman play­ing God? Why not a black woman play­ing God? You know, I think it’s right on time.”

Wayans said “the the­ater, the pro­ducer, the di­rec­tor, they ac­tu­ally made an of­fer to me to come do the play. And I read the play and I thought it was a hoot. I thought it was hys­ter­i­cal. I thought it was thought-pro­vok­ing. The sub­ject mater was of in­ter­est to me.

“And come on, let’s face it … The role of God — that’s an of­fer you can’t refuse, right?”

In a state­ment, Atkin­son says she knew Wayans from her work not just on “In Liv­ing Color,” but also as the mother strug­gling to un­der­stand her 17-year-old daugh­ter in the 2011 film “Pariah.” But she says it was see­ing her lit­tle niece with a copy of Wayans’ book “Amy Hodge­podge,” about a blended fam­ily, that per­suaded her to cast her.

“Go ‘Amy Hodge­podge’!” Wayans says in the call. “That’s re­ally in­ter­est­ing. I love hear­ing that. It’s just so in­ter­est­ing how we’re all so con­nected in ways that are quite mag­i­cal.”

Wayans says she wrote the six-book se­ries with her hus­band, Kevin Knotts, in­spired by her own niece, who is mixe­drace.

“She was hav­ing some dif­fi­cul­ties in school for dif­fer­ent rea­sons, and she shared with us her story of what was go­ing on in her school, and that just sparked an idea,” Wayans says. “We wanted to get her a book, we wanted to buy her some books, so she could see, like, lit­tle girls who look like her re­flected in the pages. And we couldn’t find them any­where.

“So we de­cided, ‘OK, let’s cre­ate a se­ries. Let’s cre­ate a se­ries called ‘Amy Hodge­podge’ and tell sto­ries that are univer­sal — you know, that can help chil­dren deal with dif­fer­ent things that they’re go­ing through in their lit­tle young lives.’”

Wayans says the book are “kind of a full-cir­cle mo­ment” for her.

“When I was in fifth grade, I use to write chil­dren’s sto­ries,” she says. “And my teacher, whom the ‘Amy Hodge­podge’ se­ries is ded­i­cated to, would send me around to var­i­ous classes in se­cond and third grade to read my lit­tle sto­ries to them. So as a grown woman, that never re­ally left me – that de­sire to tell chil­dren’s sto­ries.”

Wayans also counts “Pariah” as a ca­reer high­light. It gave her a chance to show­case her dra­matic abil­i­ties, and got her a nom­i­na­tion from the Black Reel Awards for Best Sup­port­ing Ac­tress.

“That was a re­ally spe­cial ex­pe­ri­ence,” Wayans says. “‘Pariah’ was re­ally a won­der­ful movie. Un­for­tu­nately, it didn’t have the life that it should have had, I think — the the­atri­cal run. It just didn’t get the sup­port and at­ten­tion it would need to push it to the next level. But peo­ple are dis­cov­er­ing it now — they dis­cover it on Net­flix or what­ever and they see it re­ally, re­ally was a very beau­ti­ful, amaz­ing movie.

“I am so grate­ful to [wri­ter­di­rec­tor] Dee Rees for giv­ing me the op­por­tu­nity. ‘Cause most peo­ple prior to that had just al­ways thought of me as a wacky come­di­enne — that that’s all I can do. So she gave me the op­por­tu­nity to show the in­dus­try and show the world that, you know, take me out the box, ‘cause there’s a lot more I can do.”

That’s a state­ment of recog­ni­tion about how strongly peo­ple iden­tify Wayans with “In Liv­ing Color.”

Though from 1995-98 she starred as To­nia Har­ris on the NBC-TV and UPN sit­com “In the House,” and had a re­cur­ring role on “A Dif­fer­ent World,” it was “In Liv­ing Color” that had the largest im­pact. The show won two NAACP Im­age

Awards, for Out­stand­ing Va­ri­ety Se­ries and Out­stand­ing Com­edy Se­ries; a Peo­ple’s Choice Award for Fa­vorite New TV Com­edy Se­ries; and an Emmy Award for Out­stand­ing Va­ri­ety, Mu­sic or Com­edy Se­ries.

And Wayans says she’s fine with that.

“I’m just so proud of that se­ries,” she says. “I’m proud of my brother, Keenan, for cre­at­ing that se­ries. I’m proud of the work I did on it. I’m proud of the ways in which it shifted cul­ture and opened up doors for so many other young co­me­dian voices and voices for peo­ple to come through.

“And I’m so proud of the legacy of ‘Liv­ing Color’ and how, here we are, all th­ese years later, and peo­ple are still watch­ing the re­runs and still laugh­ing al­most as hard as they laughed the first time, with ev­ery­thing still be­ing so rel­e­vant. I just think it’s pretty amaz­ing. I feel very, very blessed to have had the ex­pe­ri­ence and lucky.”

Asked about a pos­si­ble re­union show (next year will mark the 30 years since its de­but), Wayans says, “The pub­lic re­ally wants that from us. [But] I think if we ever did any­thing like that — and it’s a big if — it would just be like a re­union show, like a one-off. Like one two-hour spe­cial or some­thing like that. I said I would be open for that.

“But bring­ing ‘Liv­ing Color’ back as a se­ries, I wouldn’t be open for that. I don’t think Keenan (her brother, se­ries founder, writer and ac­tor Keenan Ivory Wayans) would either. You know what I mean — it’s, like, we did it. We did it at the high­est level it could be done. So why go back and try to re­peat that?”

Sev­eral other of Kim Wayans’ ca­reer projects have been con­nected to her fam­ily. She had roles in the films “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka” and “Don’t Be a Me­nace to South Cen­tral While Drink­ing Your Juice in the Hood,” both di­rected by Keenan Ivory Wayans, and “Low­down Dirty Shame,” which Keenan wrote and in which he starred.

“It’s like hav­ing your own base­ball team,” she says. “It’s a sense of, like, com­mu­nity within your fam­ily. To have a bunch of peo­ple who are cre­ative and who, in a lot of ways, are like­minded and re­ally un­der­stand each other’s hu­mor and each other’s point of view and help to en­cour­age and sup­port and de­velop that is re­ally won­der­ful. Very spe­cial.”

She says she re­mains close with them. “Oh yes,” she says with a laugh. “Very much in touch with them, very close with my broth­ers. I talk to all of them at least ev­ery week, and see them as fre­quently as we can.”

Kim Wayans says she has other works in progress. “I’m de­vel­op­ing a cou­ple of things now to go out and pitch,” she says. “So fin­gers crossed, I’ll be able to sell them. And then I have an­other one-woman show that I’m try­ing to get set up that I wrote.”

But she says she’s look­ing for­ward to her role as God.

When the in­ter­viewer jok­ingly tells her it’s the first time he’s spo­ken with God di­rectly, Wayans laughs.

“Are you im­pressed thus far?” she says.

Morn­ing Call Le­high Val­ley Mu­sic re­porter and colum­nist John J. Moser can be reached at 610-820-6722 or [email protected]

HANDOUT

Kim Wayans

KATHRYN RAINES/SPE­CIAL TOT HE MORN­ING CALL

Kim Wayans will play the lead role in “An Act of God.”

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