The Lindo-directed play ‘Joe Turner’s Come and Gone’ will be at the Berkeley Rep through Dec. 14
by POCC Minister of Information JR
Veteran actor and director Delroy Lindo is currently directing the August Wilson play, “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,” at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre through Dec. 14. Lindo is best known in the Black community for his role in the classic film “Malcolm X,” where he played West Indian Archie. He has also played in “Crooklyn,” “Clockers,” “Soul of the Game” and “Strange Justice,” just to name a few. On the stage, Lindo has directed “Blue Door” and “Medal of Honor Rag” and has performed in “Master Harold and the Boys” and “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone” on Broadway.
MOI JR: Mr. Lindo, can you tell us how you got involved in theater and acting, before we get into what you are doing right here at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre?
Delroy: I’ve always wanted to be an actor, ever since I was a kid – I mean, literally. When I was literally 5 years old, I did a play at my elementary school. It seemed strange, but at that point is when I believe I got the bug, so to speak. And when I was a child, I always had this sense that when I grew up, I wanted to be an actor. It started that early for me. And I ended up doing my formal acting training at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco.
MOI JR: Who were some of the actors that you looked up to?
Delroy: You know what? People ask me that question, and that is a totally reasonable question, but I cannot really and truly say that I had any role models when I was coming up. You know, I was born in Europe. I was born in England, and obviously I was somewhat aware of Sidney Poitier when I was growing up, but I really can’t say that I had any role models as actors because I really, really didn’t. And I don’t come from a family that had anything to do with the entertainment industry. Certainly there are actors whose work I admire now, but when I was coming up, I can’t really say that I had any role models as actors.
MOI JR: Well, here’s a better question then, so we can get a sense of the early Delroy: What were some of your favorite movies or plays when you were coming up?
Delroy: I’m not going to be able to answer that question directly, but what I will tell you is this – a seminal moment for me, an experience that I had in the theater, which allowed me to believe that I could have a career as an actor: I remember, on Easter of 1973, going to New York and going to Broadway and seeing a production of a play called “The River Niger,” which was being produced by the Negro Ensemble Company, venerated and very well know and famous Black theater company that was based in New York. And that experience made an indelible impression on me. One, because I had not seen up until that point that much live theater. And I remember walking into the theater and seeing so many Black actors on stage and also experiencing the fact that there were so many Black people in the audience. And I had never ever before experienced anything like that, and that made an indelible impression on me and led me to believe that perhaps I could have a career as an actor.
MOI JR: How old were you?
Delroy: In 1973, I would have been 21 years old.
Delroy: Let’s just make a distinction: What I am doing at Berkeley Rep is directing a play. And that is obviously different from acting in the theater.
MOI JR: Right. Well let me ask you this? Didn’t you actually act in this play before, though? In the ‘80s?
Delroy: OK. In 1988, I acted in the Broadway production of “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone.” Yes, so I played the part of Herald Loomis. Now I am directing the production of “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone” at Berkeley Rep. To answer your original question, which was what are the differences in acting for the theater and acting for film, or acting for a camera, there are a lot of differences.
Essentially, in the theater, traditionally what you do is rehearse the play for four weeks and then you start to perform the play for an audience. And in the United States, ordinarily, you will rehearse a play for four weeks and you would run a play for four weeks. And you have the luxury of preparing the work over a month-long period when you are working in the theater. And then you have the process of performing the play usually eight times a week for a live audience.
In film, obviously, the process of making film is much longer. First of all, generally speaking, in film one does not get a lot of rehearsal time. Sometimes you’ll get a week, 10 days. My work that I did with Spike – you mentioned Spike Lee – I did three films with Spike: “Malcolm X,” “Crooklyn” and “Clockers.” And usually my experience in working with Spike, he would give two weeks of rehearsal to the actors. However, generally speaking, when you’re working in film, the period of time that is used for rehearsal is not the same as in the theater. You’re not exclusively rehearsing the material, the script, when you’re rehearsing for film. You’re spending some time rehearsing some scenes and the script – you’re spending time doing costume fittings – so the rehearsal time in film is not as dedicated as it is in the theater. So the main difference is the lack of rehearsal time in film.
Then when you start to actually shoot the film – film the scenes – you could work from anywhere from two to three weeks to four to five months, depending on what the project is and the size of the part that you’re doing. Then once you’ve finished filming, the director then takes the material, then goes into an editing room and edits with the aid of an editor, edits the film down into the finished product that eventually goes into the movie theater. So the processes are very, very, different.
What I am doing now as director of “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,” I got into a rehearsal hall, a rehearsal room with my company of actors and we worked for four weeks putting the play together. We spent a few days analyzing the material. And we just sat around a table and read the material for about four or five days and we analyzed the material. Then after about five days we started to, what we call, put the play on its feet. And what that means is that we started to work and stage the scenes. And after four weeks, we did a number of previews, and then we opened the play on the fifth. And, as I think you mentioned, the play will run from Nov. 5th through Dec. 14th.
MOI JR: Can you tell the people what “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone” is about?
Delroy: Basically it deals with identity. The play is about a character, Herald Loomis, and that is the character that I played on Broadway. The play involves this man, Herald Loomis, coming to a boarding house in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1911, and he is looking for his wife. And the play deals with the process through which this man, Herald Loomis, goes about trying to find his wife.
He is a man that has been captured. What we learn about in this play is that he has been captured by this man Joe Turner and he was put to work. He was illegally kidnapped by this man and he was held for seven years and put to work for seven years by this man. Joe Turner was the brother of the governor of Tennessee back in 1911. During the time that Herald Loomis was captured and kept as a prisoner, and made to work by this man, Joe Turner, he loses his family. When he is released after seven years, he goes back to the place where he had been living with his wife, and he finds that his wife is gone. And the wife has taken their daughter and left her with her mother, the grandmother. Herald takes the daughter, then sets about looking for his wife.
What the play is about by extension, it has to do with people of African descent on this continent looking for themselves. So over all the play is about identity. It has to do with who we as people of African descent are on this continent, and in a nutshell that is what the play is about. And for your listeners who may not be aware, the author’s name is August Wilson. And August wrote a 10-play cycle; he wrote a play for every decade of the African-American experience in the 20th century in America, on the North American continent. And he wrote 10 plays: “Jitney,” “Gem of the Ocean,” “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,” “Fences,” “The Piano Lesson,” “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” “Seven Guitars,” “Radio Golf” and “King Hedley” (and “Two Trains Running”). They are the 10 plays that August wrote for each decade of the African experience in this country.
MOI JR: So I would expect him to be Black?
Delroy: August Wilson was African-American, that is correct. After he wrote the last play, he actually passed on. He actually passed on about two years ago. But, yes, August Wilson was an African-American writer. He was born in Pittsburgh. The vast majority of August’s works were set in the Hill District. I think that the only play of August that is not set in Pittsburgh is the play called “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” which is set in Chicago.
MOI JR: I understand that this is not the first play that you have directed. You have also directed “Medal of Honor Rag.” And are their any others?
Delroy: Yes, I directed “Medal of Honor Rag,” which is a Vietnam-era play; and, about a year and a half ago, I directed a play called “Blue Door,” which is also about identity, and I did that also at the Berkeley Rep Theater. So the two plays that I directed at Berkeley Rep are “Blue Door” and now the second one is “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,” and prior to that I directed “Medal of Honor Rag” in Los Angeles.
MOI JR: What is it about the script of the play that you are working on now, “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,” that captivated you enough to take it up and direct it?
Delroy: As I said, I performed this play back in 1988. I did five productions of this play as an actor, playing Herald Loomis. I did four productions before we went into Broadway. We went into Broadway in March of ‘88. So, including the Broadway production, we did five productions of this play. And the play made an indelible impression on me, both personally and creatively. So after the success of “Blue Door,” the gentleman who runs the Berkeley Repertory Theatre – his name is Tony Taccone – Tony came to me and asked if there was another play that I would be interested in directing, and I told Tony that I wanted to direct “Joe Turner’s …” because I think that not only is it a brilliant play, not only is it a brilliant piece of theater, it also makes what I feel is a profound statement about the state of what it means to be a person of African descent on this continent. There’s the reason why I wanted to direct “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone.”
MOI JR: Last but not least, I would like to ask you what is it about this play that you think is important for Bay Area audiences specifically to get out of this play? What is it in particular?
Delroy: The reason why I thought it was important to do your show, JR, is because I’m hoping that your audience, your demographic, are young people. And I think that this play is critical for young people to come and see theater in general, but specifically to come and see a play like this, “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,” because this play speaks to our history – people of African descent’s history on this continent.
And I feel that it is critical, it is especially important to me – and all of you readers out there, I will consider it a personal favor to me – if you come and see this work, because it is speaking about people of African descent and our history on this continent. I want all young people to come and see this play. I want all people to come and see it. But I certainly want people of color, young African-American males and females to come and see this play. That is something that I think is critically important.
Also, because African-Americans do not in general have a history, have a tradition of coming to this particular theater to see work, for me its really, really critical. It’s doubly critical that they come and see this work. So there are two of the most important and critical reasons why I feel it’s important for young people to come and see this work. And after you’ve seen “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,” go out and read the other August Wilson plays, because I think you will find something that speaks to your history in all of those plays. OK.
To hear the audio version of this interview, you could go to www.blockreportradio.com. Minister of Information JR can be reached at email@example.com. To learn more about the re-enslavement of hundreds of thousands of Black men from the end of the Civil War until World War II and see dramatic photos of them, read the new book, “Slavery by Another Name,” by Douglas Blackmon and the story about it in the June 25, 2008, Bay View.