Brooks' Lear An 'Important Moment' For Theatre

By Michelle
February 29, 2004 - 5:54 PM

"Rare is the occasion where I could be on a stage with people who look like me," said Avery Brooks (Captain Sisko), who plays the titular role in King Lear in a production of the Shakespearean play opening at Yale University on Thursday.

Brooks and director Harold Scott elected to set the play among the agrarian Olmec culture - an lost African civilization that predates the Mayan presence in the Western hemisphere. James Bundy, artistic director of Yale Repertory Theatre and dean of the Yale School of Drama, had contacted Brooks and Scott about creating the all-black production, Brooks told The Hartford Courant.

By setting the Shakespearean tale in Mesoamerica, Brooks said, they hoped to bring a new perspective to the tragedy and "to find a setting for us - people of color - to exist and to be imagined."

It is the first time in Scott's memory that an all-black production of the work, directed by an African American, has been produced. Brooks has also headlined a production of the Oedipus plays featuring a largely African-American cast.

Scott called King Lear "a play about redemption" and said that growing up, he thought of Shakespeare as "something that belonged to white people", but realized during the 1960s that that wasn't necessarily true, "and that indeed was the fascination of doing this play with a black cast."

Brooks noted that his first experience with classical drama was in his all-black school: "It was black people who introduced me to Shakespeare."

Because African-American actors traditionally have difficulty being cast in classical roles, Brooks added that "this opportunity and this work brings tears to your eyes on the certain level because it may never happen again, see what I mean? You see how important this moment is?"

"I am brown and male and American...I want to celebrate who we are," stated the actor.

Yale Repertory Theatre's production of King Lear, opens Thursday in New Haven, Connecticut and runs through March 13th. Tickets and information are available at the official web site.

The original Courant article is here.

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