Phylicia Rashad In The Director's Chair
The history-making actress takes the helm of The Roommate at Steppenwolf Theatre
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WE know her primarily as Claire Huxtable, the attorney/wife/mother who was idolized by millions during her role for eight seasons on The Cosby Show. But Phylicia Rashad has showcased her multiple talents in various arenas, along the way becoming a historic figure as the first African American to win a Tony Award for a dramatic leading role in a play (best actress) for her portrayal of no-nonsense matriarch Lena Younger in the 2004 revival of A Raisin in the Sun. At the time, Rashad said: “Often I’ve wondered what does it take for this to happen. And now I know. It takes effort and grace, tremendous self-effort and amazing grace.”
Her grace continues to be evident and her multiple talents are no less impressive as she has taken the helm as director of one of Steppenwolf Theatre’s most talked-about productions, The Roommate. In the nearly 90-minute play, described as poignant and hilarious, the audience experiences all that comes with a modern-day odd couple––one from Iowa, one from the Bronx, and that’s just the beginning of the differences between the two women who out of necessity have to share the same space.
Multitalented entertainer Phylicia Rashad, widely known for her role on The Cosby Show, is the director of The Roommate at Steppenwolf Theatre.
In a scene from The Roommate, co-stars Ora Jones (left) and Sandra Marquez share a common space and (below) are joined by director Phylicia Rashad on opening night.
No stranger to sitting in the director’s chair, Rashad’s previous directing credits include August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean at the Seattle Repertory Theatre, August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and Joe Turner’s Come and Gone at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles (2014 NAACP Theatre Award for Best Director) and Fences at the Long Wharf Theatre and the McCarter Theatre. In May, Rashad made her New York City stage directing debut with the off-Broadway comedy Our Lady of 121st Street.
Here’s what Rashad has to say about directing The Roommate, written by Jen Silverman––starring Sandra Marquez and Ora Jones––and will be on the Steppenwolf Theatre stage through August 5.
After reading the script, what were your initial thoughts about the play?
I thought it was poignant, something that we don’t see every day. It’s deceptively simple. I say deceptively simple because there are so many layers to this onion. (Describes the show as two women of a certain age who appear to be very different and who are brought together by corresponding needs.)
As it is in any production, most of the attention is focused on the cast, so what has it been like to work with these actors?
Every day I sat in rehearsal watching Ora Jones and Sandra Marquez, and I marveled at them. And it just reaffirms what I have understood since graduation––some of the greatest artists, some of the finest artists are not known worldwide, and yet they are [among] the greatest. Yes! Yes! Yes! And that is exciting for me. And that is inspiring for me.
You’re a Tony Award-winning actress and accomplished director. What have you learned about the differences that these experiences present?
Needless to say, as an actor you’re developing a character, for a single character. As director, you have to pay attention to everything, everybody and every single thing. So in my first experience as a director what I learned still holds true––that really directing is about holding a vision and aligning all of the creative energies––that’s designers and actors and crew––aligning all of those creative energies with that vision and allowing room for them to contribute things that you didn’t see. So everyone has buy-in and ownership, and it really does become a team effort. And that’s really what I say all the time when I’m directing––“Yea team!”––because that’s what it is.
What’s your level of excitement as it relates to working at Steppenwolf?
“I’m delighted to join Steppenwolf as the director of Jen Silverman’s The Roommate—a story of connections, misconnections and surprises that we don’t often see on stage. I welcome the opportunity, in collaboration with actors and designers, to bring this story to life. There are dreams, and there are dreams that come true. This [directing The Roommate] is [a dream come true].
For more information and tickets, go to www.steppenwolftheatre.org.