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Sophie Okonedo to Star in “Classic American Play” in Role Never Before Played by Non-White Actress

Sophie Okonedo to Star in "Classic American Play" in Role Never Before Played by Non-White Actress

There’s a great, lengthy, if rare profile of actress Sophie Okonedo on the UK-based The Guardian website, in which the actress talks plenty about her career, touching on more controversial topics like the so-called plight of the black British actor (something that’s been in focus over the last 2 years at least, which you’d be familiar with, if you’ve been reading this blog). She also talks color-blind casting, how she would run the British TV and film industry if she were in charge, as well as her selection process when it comes to choosing roles to play, and whether color has any influence on her decisions, surviving in a rather challenging industry, especially for people of color, her future career plans, and much more.

Like I said, it’s quite comprehensive, and the kind of profile I can’t claim to have read on Okonedo in the past (although that certainly doesn’t mean there haven’t been others). It’s definitely recommended reading.

One segment of it I want to highlight is with regards to an upcoming project that is mentioned in the piece, although it’s apparently all still underwraps for now. Specifically, it reads: “At the end of next year, on Broadway, she will cause another double-take when she plays, in a “classic American play”, the lead role, “which has never been played by a [non-]white actress before. It is going to be a real shock for some people.” Frustratingly, this play can also not be specified until contracts are finalised.”

So, she doesn’t share specifics on what this “classic American play” will be that will “be a real shock to some people,” so we’ll just have to speculate. The writer of the piece does ask her if it’s a Tennessee Williams play, and she replies with: “Um, not far off. But I’m not allowed to say.”

So what else is there? An American classic in which she’ll play the lead protagonist (which is key) – a role that’s never been played by a non-white actress on Broadway specifically. And it’s not a Tennessee Williams work. I’m thinking maybe “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”? Maybe playing one-half of the the middle-aged couple – Martha. But would that really be a shock for some folks? I suppose for some. But a question is, when she says “the lead role” it kind of implies that her character is a singular lead, in that, she’ll be the main/sole protagonist.

In terms of playwrights comparable to Tennessee Williams, there’s Arthur Miller, Thornton Wilder, and Eugene O’Neill. But, looking over their individual bodies of work, I couldn’t immediately identify any plays that fit the above criteria. 

I’ll defer to you theater buffs to chime in with your thoughts in the comments section below. 

By the way (speaking of color-blind casting) this news comes on the heels of May’s announcement that Okonedo will play Queen Margaret in the BBC trilogy of films, “The Hollow Crown” – Queen Margaret being the very white queen, Henry VI’s widow. 

The films will drawn from Shakespeare’s “Henry VI” trilogy and “Richard III,” and will be filmed, starting this September, for a 2015 broadcast.

Read the full Okonedo profile on The Guardian’s website here.

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