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DIRECTOR'S CUT: More with "Fences" director Kenny Leon

Akiba Abaka | 9/16/2009, 10:37 a.m.
make it old. We make it, "Well, it's really a '60s story, an angry black man and a big mama," as opposed to, "Let's look at what its saying to us now." Which is why I cast Phylicia Rashad the way I did. She is full of life, and she was sexy ...

Kenny, you know something? I hate to cut you off, but I have to say this: When I saw that production, your production of "A Raisin in the Sun", I turned to my aunt and I said, "Phylicia is going to win the Tony for this." She said, "You think so?" I said, "She's going to win the Tony because she makes me believe that she was made love to, to have those children." ... She was no longer this matriarchal 'mammy' figure that she had been, and I don't think that Lorraine Hansberry necessarily tried to create that figure.

... When I am asked what it will take to keep black theater alive, I always say we have to re-educate our artists. These artists don't even know the value of our literary real estate in American theater. We don't know, so we are obviously going to interpret, but I have to tell you thank you, because they were able to make me believe that this woman once made love to somebody, and that was brand new.


[laughs]

In popular culture, black women are not represented that way.

It's interesting, because I respect women so much. Even in doing "Fences" this time ... I want the audience to understand why Troy goes down to Alberta, and it is not because he is not getting what he needs from a woman at home. Therefore, if you cast Rose as unattractive, arguing all the time, that's a different thing [than] if you cast her as sexy full of life, maternal, giving you everything you need. So I've been very careful to lead the actress to a place that will make you say, "What would make him leave Rose?" Then it's a different thing if you have to leave because the home is drying up than if you have the best thing at home and you go to Alberta. Then it's about something else.

And if you talk with Mr. Wilson, that's about that baseball thing. That racism has got so deep in him that he's only lived to know the joys of the good times he's had in the Negro baseball league, but Rose has heard those stories all the time. But he can go down to her [Alberta] home and talk and relive those memories, and that's why he can't stop.

Kenny, you're right. It's in the text ... I tell actors all the time, "You don't even [have to] know how to act, you just need to know how to read, because everything you need is in the text." And that makes perfect sense ...

I like that, and I'mma use that in rehearsals one day. You ain't [need] to know how to act, you just have to know how to read.