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Behind the scenes QandA with Invisible Man actor Deidra LaWan Starkes

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What do you feel is the significance of this play?
It’s such a dense piece of art in terms of what it has to say to African-American men specifically, African-American people specifically, and the role in general. I think one of the most intriguing things about this piece of work that’s 60 years old is that a lot, a lot of what Ellison had to say and a lot of what he projects in the book is prevalent today. There are just things that are still happening today that you really wouldn’t expect to happen 60 years later. So it’s almost like even though you’re watching his play, you’re identifying with issues that are alive and current.

Can you give me some examples of those issues?
Well, one of my favorite lines in the play is: “You sacrifice the people — the trick is to sacrifice them in their own best interest.” And that gets [a] response almost every night! You can hear the audience go “hmph” or even laugh at the absurdity of this very real comment. If you look at something like health care, health care is a really big issue. It shouldn’t be an issue but people are being sacrificed at the expense of not keeping us healthy and for me, that’s just one of the very poignant moments that sticks out in my head.

Should people care about Ellison’s message some 60 years later?
I don’t know if it’s as much that they need to care about it as much as it is about that old saying — “Those who don’t know their history are bound to repeat it.” For me it’s about that whole conversation and so even if people believe that this isn’t relevant I feel like people need to listen, to see, to experience and to feel [this].

Tell me about the character(s) you play.
All of us except Teagle [Bougere] — who plays Invisible Man — have more than one character that we play. My prominent character is Mary Rambo, who took care of Invisible Man after he got out of the factory hospital when he was in Harlem. That’s my main character, and then I have smaller speaking roles and portrayals. She is absolutely the only matriarchal symbol in the production and in his book. She’s very nurturing and she teaches [invisible man about] giving, because she opens her home to him and you don’t get it in the play, but if you read the book, he’s behind on her rent and she’s like “Don’t bother me about that.” She’s just really understanding.

How would you describe the overall cast?
RE-MARK-A-BLE! They are nine of the most amazing talents that I’ve ever been blessed to work with. I really stand in awe and it blows my mind. There are some scenes I watch and I see the [other] actors on stage and I’m only grateful to be blessed to be a part of this journey. You’ll see tonight when you see the show. It’s a stellar cast.