Actress and playwright Charlayne Woodard has made Los Angeles home, but this fall she is back in her favorite movie theater at La Jolla Playhouse, co-starring in the world premiere of her latest play, “The Garden.”
Playhouse Artistic Director Christopher Ashley said Woodard had the longest history of any artist who worked in the theater since its revitalization in 1983. She has since worked for its three art directors: Des McAnuff, Michael Greif and Ashley, and “The Garden” is her sixth production there since 1986. Three were shows she performed in and three were her own pieces she performed in, including “The Garden”.
Woodard said she loves the warm weather here and loves to visit La Jolla Cove. But she mostly enjoys working at the Playhouse because of her dedication to producing new pieces, like her own “The Night Watcher,” a solo piece that she developed as part of the Playhouse’s Page to Stage program and which was there. was created in 2010.
“It’s a wonderful place,” she said. “I like that they are on development and contributing to the American canon. It’s gold in my book – to support emerging artists and the work of veteran artists. They asked me to write a play, and it was a blessing.
“The Garden” is a two-character drama about two stubborn “alpha” women: an elderly black mother named Claire Rose and her middle-aged daughter, Cassandra, who have been separated for three years. One day, Cassandra unexpectedly shows up at her mother’s garden gate in hopes of reconciling their troubled relationship. Their angry, tender and often revealing conversation unearths many secrets and surprises from their family’s past. The play is presented in co-production with Baltimore Center Stage. Woodard plays Cassandra and award-winning theater and television actress Stephanie Berry plays Claire Rose.
Ashley, who directed Woodard in the Playhouse’s 2010 production “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” said he was honored to be working with her again.
“She writes beautifully for the actors,” he said. “They love his job because of the way they use speech. What they say and what they don’t say is very meaningful, but there is also poetry in it. She writes with incredible compassion and adventure. There are always edges on things, always the unexpected around every corner, with incredible possibilities of grace.
“The Garden” is Woodard’s sixth play. Three of his pieces – “Pretty Fire”, “Neat” and “The Night Watcher” – are autobiographical. Three – “Flight”, “Phenom” and “The Garden” – are fictitious. The only facts in this piece that she pulled from real life are the gardening knowledge passed down from her own mother, who is a master gardener and community garden director in Albany, NY.
“It’s not me and mom,” she said. “I wanted to work with people that I had invented. It’s an exercise for me, and it’s more fun. I can twist these people and do whatever I want with them.
Woodard said her autobiographical solo pieces from the start of her writing career stemmed from a desire to create roles for herself that weren’t available to black actors on Broadway or in regional theaters 30 years ago. years. She credits Micki Grant, the groundbreaking black Broadway songwriter who died last month at the age of 92, for advising her, “If you want to be on Broadway, you better write it yourself.”
“The reason I write solo pieces is that our real stories haven’t been told yet. We are only beginning to tell our stories, ”she said. “I like to tell our stories from a black perspective because I haven’t seen a lot of them.”
Woodard was educated at the Goodman School of Drama in Chicago and is a member of The Actor’s Studio in New York. During those formative years, she struggled to find black female characters that she could play in auditions and classes. Today, she is happy to receive thank you messages from black actresses across the country who have landed roles and slots in theatrical conservatories to perform scenes from her plays.
Woodard spent the first 15 years of her acting career performing musicals, most notably co-starring in the original Broadway cast “Ain’t Misbehavin ‘”, for which she earned a Tony nomination in 1978. In the late 1980s, she moved to Los Angeles to embark on a stellar career in television. She plays Rhonda in this season of HBO’s “In Treatment” and has had recurring roles in “Pose”, “Prodigal Son” and “Sneaky Pete” in recent years. She also starred in the films “Glass”, “Sunshine State”, “Unbreakable” and “The Crucible”, among others. When not working there, Woodard shares a home in Los Angeles’ Koreatown neighborhood with her 30-year husband, lawyer Alan Harris.
Woodard said “the garden” took a long time to develop. When Ashley first commissioned her to write a play several years ago, she first pursued a script about the relationship between five women. But when that story didn’t unfold, Woodard’s husband Alan encouraged her to try another idea for a mother-daughter story. Woodard said his inspiration was a girlfriend who hadn’t spoken to his mother for many years, and when her mother passed away before they could reconcile, she was crushed.
“Something in her broke and what she did was write a wonderful book of poetry dedicated to women of her mother’s generation,” said Woodard.
“The Garden” was first performed in 2018 at the Ojai Playwrights Conference, then was developed in 2019 at the Sundance Theater Lab and the Goodman Theater New Stages Festival. When the pandemic hit, Woodard said she used some of her free time to work on rewrites. The completed play debuted in Baltimore in July in a filmed production that only had seven live performances for a small, socially distant audience. Woodard played Cassandra in Caroline Stefanie Clay’s Claire Rose in a production directed by San Diego director Patricia McGregor.
When the play moved to La Jolla, McGregor had to fulfill another directing engagement at the Atlantic Theater in New York City this summer. Delicia Turner Sonnenberg was therefore hired to serve as co-director. Turner Sonnenberg sits on the board of directors of La Jolla Playhouse and is a 2021 artist in residence at the Old Globe. Woodard said she was excited to be able to revisit and reinterpret the role of Cassandra with a different actor playing Claire Rose and a new collaborating director.
“I made a new friend and her name is Delicia Turner Sonnenberg,” Woodard said. “She speaks my language. It has been a pleasure to work with her. She is a gifted director. I told him, ‘I guess this is the first show we’ve done together.’ ”
Ashley said Turner Sonnenberg and McGregor collaborate on Zoom meetings on a daily basis during rehearsals, which he says is going very well. He believes that audiences returning to the Playhouse after an 18-month absence will be deeply moved by “The Garden”.
“We wanted to come away with something human and emotional for the audience,” he said.
When: Opens Tuesday and ends October 17th. Hours: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday to Wednesday. 8 p.m. Thursday to Saturday. 2 p.m. from Saturday to Sunday. 7 p.m. on Sundays.
Or: Sheila and Hughes Potiker Theater, La Jolla Playhouse, 2910 La Jolla Village Drive, La Jolla.
COVID protocol: Ticket buyers must present photo ID and full proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 PCR test performed within 48 hours of performance. Masks are mandatory for everyone inside.
Tickets: $ 25 and more
Telephone: (858) 550-1010
In line: lajollaplayhouse.org