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January 2004
Drowning Crow : An Interview with Alfre Woodard

By Wilson Morales

Drowning Crow: An Interview with Alfre Woodard

If there were ever an actress who displays nothing but grace and splendor on the big and small screen, it’s the ever talented Alfre Woodard. From her Oscar-nominated performance as Geechee in “Cross Creek” to her award-winning performance in the TV film, “Miss Evers’ Boys”, Alfre has shown that she can carry and support any film. In most of her roles, Alfre plays the voice of reason because her acting speaks of leadership in volumes. She will carry that trait off-screen as her next performance will allow her to be loose and powerful and magnificent for she’s coming to Broadway to be part of something extraordinary. Opening on Feb. 19th, Alfre Woodard will star as the lead in DROWNING CROW, a play inspired by Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull, and written by actress-playwright Regina Taylor and directed by Marion McClinton. I recently spoke to Alfre during rehearsals as she prepares for this theater production. 

WM: Can you talk about the character you play? 

AW: I play Josephine Nicholas Ark Trip and it's based on the Arkadina character from Anton Chekhov's The Seagull and she, in the pen of Regina Taylor, becomes even more fabulous and celebrated, delightful and selfish, and willful than the first time out with Chekhov. Josephine is just delighted to be starring in the drama that is her life. She sees herself in epic proportions and she sees none of her faults much in the same way that you would imagine a 16 year old girl, but just, I need, I need, I need and she is very magnetic and people end up doing things for her and doing what she wants. Nobody ever says, "No, I'm not", except she butts heads with Constantine, her son, who calls himself C-Trip or Constantrip, who is an artist himself and he desperately, at first, wants his mother's attention and once she's there, she's never there. He also wants her validation of him as an artist, of which she would not give. She waxes sentimental all the time about Jimmy Baldwin. "Now there's voice" and he's goes through the play of putting on a play which is a statement of what he wants to say, but it's also an attack on her, her whole school of thought and theater, and success and film. He attacks her and her older brother, who's a retired judge, says, "He just wants your attention", and she says, "Well, why couldn't he do something from Seven Guitars instead of this new school Spike Lee Joint pretending retro baraka." He finally gets her attention. It's that Chekhovian thing. The big tragedy.

WM: With most of your film roles, you are known for playing the voice of reason. What's it like to play this selfish, over the top character? Is that more fun for you as an actress?

AW: Well, you probably skipped a couple of roles like "Holiday Heart". My characters have thought of themselves, but I understand what you mean. It's not more fun, I wouldn't say that. It is not like having to be on the zone diet all the time. It's a whole new taste, and it's the taste that you have and you can express, and it is something and very satisfying. We say that our body and out psyche and voice is our instrument so you like to play in your upper register sometimes. You don't want to play in that seven note range and it's great to hear the rich tones of a flute as well as the upper Regis.

WM: Do you think this play will attract an audience aside from the normal theater audience that comes?

AW: I hope so. I think people need to understand that with plays and with cinema, when you hear about it, call and get a ticket then or go and see it then. It's especially with the play, which I can do because it's a limited run. We run until the 2nd or 4th of April and if there's a big demand, we might go two more weeks, but everybody else is going to want to see it too. We will be delivering in those previews, but we will continue to rehearse the play during the day, but if someone wants to see this play, they should because all different kinds of people are going to want to see it. You have the regular subscription audience for Manhattan Theater Club and you have a lot of groups that are seeing a play with African Americans like all different kinds of theater going groups. You have lots of students, college students and high school students whose faculty is interested in them seeing this because it's an incredible adaptation of an old play. Any writer or any student of writing should see this. It's the "How to" and how successful you can do that as a writer to make that translation. Tourists will be walking around saying, "I heard it was good, and I want to be in it." At least half of the audience will be my family, so hurry up and get your tickets.

WM: Marion McClinton, the director, had mentioned that he had to convince you to take this part. Was that the case, and if so, what made you decide to take this glorified role?

AW: You know what, he didn't have to convince me from turning away from other work because I go where the word is, wherever the strongest word is, at any point. The thing I struggled with was being away from my children. I am no Josephine or Trip. I fly home when I do films to go cook. I fly home for like 12 hours back and forth wherever I am. I go to soccer matches and horse shows. There come those times when you can't say no and you have to suit up. I love Chekhov and The Seagull is my favorite. When Regina wrote Drowning Crow and I was told to look at it, and I was like, "That peaks my interest." It had nothing to do with Broadway and I knew MTC was a really supportive group of people, not like the run of the mill, and not to put them down, Broadway producers and houses. I knew that I would have that support, but I picked up Regina's script and it was just amazing. The layers are so deep; it will just keep on folding and unraveling like an onion. I rather go to see a good play than be in one. You get the experience of that communion and that event together even as an audience member; but there are those times when you think, "I can think of something that maybe no one else will, so I should do that." I was completely taken with the play and said, "I'm suiting up for this. This is worth leaving home for." But it got to be a struggle for a while of how I could manage home life at a distance. Once I figured that out, I jump wholeheartedly as I could.

WM: Any interesting film projects coming up?

AW: I just finished shooting "The Forgotten" with Julianne Moore and Dominic West and Gary Sinise and I don't know when that comes out. I am also producing a picture for CBS based on the Toula Texas story. I'll be acting in it as well.

WM: Any memorable experiences so far?

AW: I've been very fortunate in terms of the cast, and the directors, and the materials I have chosen to be involved with. I loved doing "Miss Firecracker" with Holly (Hunter), and Mary (Steenburgen) and Tim (Robbins) and Scott (Glenn) because they are all friends and they are all solid actors and it's like acting camp and Thomas Schlamme, the director, was fabulous. I loved doing that. Each picture is something different. I loved being in Africa with Morgan Freeman and Danny Glover. I love just all of those. I have never walk away from a film set without the feeling of "Thank You God for making a way for me" "Thank You for bringing me to these people" and I take all of these people to the next thing that I'm doing.

WM: Thanks

AW: Thanks so much.

DROWNING CROW opens on February 19TH, 2004 at the Manhattan Theatre Club's Biltmore Theatre (261 W. 47th St.). Previews begins Thursday, January 29th

The play also features Anthony Mackie, Aunjanue Ellis, Paul Butler, Ebony Jo-Ann, Roger Robinson, Curtis McClarin, Stephanie Berry, Peter Francis James, & Stephen McKinley Henderson.

For more information, go to http://www.mtc-nyc.org/drowningcrow/index.htm


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