By Darlene Donloe
Admittedly, Desean Kevin Terry was skeptical about playing the lead in Lorraine Hansberry’s play, Les Blancs. He initially thought he couldn’t be effective in a role that he was convinced wasn’t relevant to today. Then, he read and conceptually inhaled what was Hansberry’s final work. It was then he realized just how powerful the drama and the role would be for an accomplished actor.
Now the handsome and charismatic Terry, who graduated from Juilliard, has nothing but praise for Hansberry who, he proclaims, was a gifted playwright “ahead of her time”.
Les Blancs is a drama about the end of colonialism in a fictional, unnamed African colony. The play, set in a rickety Christian mission surrounded by the violence and counter-violence of black revolutionaries and white authorities, reveals the impossible moral choices faced by individuals who must reconcile personal happiness with idealism.
An affable actor who was born in Belize, but grew up in Los Angeles, Terry is gratified to play the lead in the Los Angeles premiere of the Rogue Machine production of Les Blancs, set to open May 27. The play is directed by Gregg T. Daniel.
Terry, a personable type who laughs frequently and easily, plays the wandering Tshembe who has returned for the funeral of his father, a tribal elder. Tshembe, a proud man, is disillusioned by the white man’s alleged good intentions.
To effectually pull off this highly-flavored role calls for a skilled actor. Enter Terry, who has impressive theatrical credits. Some of his theater credits include: Father Comes Home from the Wars, The Trip to Bountiful, The Antigone Project, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Romeo and Juliet, Taming of the Shrew, Comedy of Errors and The Royale. Some of his television credits include: Southland, Shameless, ER, Monk, The Night Shift, House, Grey's Anatomy, Scorpion, NCIS. Some of his film credits include God's Army, Somebody's Mother and States of Grace.
|Matthew Lindberg, Desean Kevin Terry and Turner Frankosky|
I recently caught up with Terry to discuss his role and his career.
DD: Describe Les Blancs.
DKT: The story takes place in a fictional, colonial country in Africa. I play a character named Tshembe. It’s about living one’s life under oppression. It’s not about defining the story of freedom.
DD: Tell me why you wanted to be a part of Les Blancs.
DKT: I like political pieces. In this time period, as an artist, I’m interested in having a political dialogue. It engages me. More than ever before people are asking questions and wondering what they can do. This piece was welcomed. I don’t want to do art for art sake. This play is so interesting. We’re so familiar with Lorraine Hansberry’s Raisin in the Sun. When I first read Les Blancs, I was skeptical. Then I read it and I was amazed how relevant the play continues to be. Lorraine [Hansberry] was ahead of her time. This was an artistic challenge.
DD: You say before you read it you were skeptical. Why?
DKT: Because it’s Lorraine Hansberry. You would think the material would be dated. It thought I wouldn’t be able to connect with it. I was wrong. The way she structured the political and the personal is incredible. This is over 50 years ago. That was my skepticism. I was blown away because I didn’t have to transport myself to another time period in order to connect with the material.
DD: Tell me about your character – Tshembe.
DKT: He is the main character. I think this is a contemporary appeal. At the start of the play his father has died and it has brought him back home to say goodbye to his father. He is an educated man who has been in search of humanity. He sees himself as a black man but is more interested in being universal and living as a human being. The issue is that he really understands the simple things in life, but his hometown keeps pulling him to live in a political conversation when he would like to have a universal conversation. He’s being forced to be political. He fights.
DD: If you were in his shoes, do you think you would be the same way?
DKT: I have a lot of similarities with him. I think we both would love to live in a world where people see people as people. Education breaks down the differences and shows we're all the same. That’s not what the system does. We are still categorized. What should be your primary thing? Should it be personal or political? That's what the piece addresses. If I walk into a situation – they don’t know if I have three degrees. They just see a black man.
|Desean Kevin Terry|
DD: What do you like/not like about your character?
DKT: I don't think one has to like everything about a character in order to play them. I don’t dislike the character. I never do. Even those points of disagreement. I would have answered the political - way before Tshembe did. That’s what’s beautiful about him. We have a difference, but I don’t dislike the difference. I appreciate being able to take that journey.
DD: How have you gone about developing the character?
DKT: The first thing is this. We have these dialects. The first thing is that the dialect is a huge concern for me as an actor. I have to communicate with his sound. I love the sound. I love the dialect. I’m trying to figure out a way of expressing things in a different physical manner. If I didn’t have this dialogue I would have much less of a transformation.
DD: Why should people come see this show?
DKT: People should pay their money to see the show because we are living in such a time where people are asking themselves the same question. Whatever side you were on, it was a political reawakening. Now people are questioning what should I do? Am I doing enough? Am I part of the problem or the solution? We sit in the dark and think – it’s not me. Hopefully you’ll see towards the end that the problems, they have been here all the time. It’s a universal thing. It is a beautiful play that Hansberry has written. I’m astounded by this play.
DD: Is it more important for black people or white people to see this show?
DKT: I think everybody needs to see this show. I think it’s especially important that white people see the show. It's a different look on the structure of power. I really think that black people in this country are having what W.E.B. Dubois called double consciousness. We have a sense of our roles. This is a beautiful play where someone can step out and see how the majority is allowed to live in comparison to the minority.
DD: Why did you want to be an actor?
DKT: I wanted to be an actor because it’s always been rewarding. As a kid I was a shy kid. I didn’t really talk to people. Then I started acting and it gave me the ability to express myself. I can connect. I want to get to the heart of the matter. People get to see my imagination and see the real sense of me. I want to share with people the things that are important to me, the compassionate and emotional side of me.
DD: What is it about theater?
DKT: One hundred percent it gives me a sense of freedom. When wearing a mask one can feel more free. Not everyone. When wearing certain masks there is a freedom of expression. I’m an introverted person. I have very little interest in getting up and talking as myself.
DD: You do theater, film and TV. Is your preparation different for each genre?
DKT: The preparation changes depending on the material. In general there is a different preparation. With theater you get to rehearse. You're allowed to have more of a transformation. TV and film are more immediate. They are casting by who you are, not who you can become. Theater is the actor’s medium. TV is the writer’s medium and film is the director’s medium.
DD: What is your favorite show of all time?
DKT: My favorite show of all time is The Royale by Marco Ramirez. I was in the show. I like that it is about a boxer. It’s loosely about Jack Johnson. He’s going up for the heavyweight championship of the world. It’s about boxing and politics. The playwright says in the opening that boxing will be done with their words.
DD: What are you working on after this show?
DKT: After this show – I don’t know, just living that actor life.
|Cast of 'Les Blancs'|
Les Blancs, directed by Gregg T. Daniel, stars Terry, Amir Abdullah, Bill Brochtrup, Anne Gee Byrd, Aric Floyd, Fiona Hardingham, Jason McBeth, Matt Orduña, Jonathan P. Sims and Joel Swetow.
Les Blancs, Rogue Machine Theatre (in The Met), 1089 N Oxford Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90029; (Additional parking in lot at medical center east of Freeway); 8 p.m., Sat. and Mon.; 3 p.m. Sun. through July 3; no performance on May 29 (Memorial Day); $40; Pay-What you-Can on June 5th ($5 minimum at box office, night of performance, while supplies last); Reservations: 855-585-5185 or www.roguemachinetheatre.com
Photos by John Perrin Flynn