The Guest at Central Park West
Every once in a while, something comes along that alters your consciousness, something like Levy Lee Simon's play The Guest at Central Park West.
Simon's play, which runs through June 3rd, challenges comfortable ways of thinking and being and provokes conversation that will hopefully inspire new ideas.
Brilliantly acted by a cast led by John Marshall Jones, The Guest at Central Park West delivers and is definitely not to be missed.
JOHN MARSHALL JONES, ACTORJohn Marshall Jones, best known as the loving father, Floyd Henderson on Family Channel's "Smart Guy" (and also FOX network's "John Doe" shot in Vancouver last year), has compiled an impressive list of credits since coming to Hollywood from Chicago's "Second City Theatre" in 1987. Two months after he arrived, he booked "Good Morning, Vietnam." Since then, he has starred in four television series, nine recurring characters (presently on CBS's "Still Standing", "Navy N.C.I.S." and "Joan of Arcadia"), over 100 television episodic (both sitcom and one hour), 20 A-list feature films and 10 MOW's.
as told to Dana Roc
I read the script two years ago and when we did the reading I thought that the play was a fascinating and remarkable piece of work and maybe a year later or so, Levy approached me with The Bow Wow Club which is also a remarkable piece of work in a very different way.
We produced and mounted The Bow Wow Club and it received all of these accolades and it is heading to The National Black Theater Festival now and all of that was well but I never forgot this play.
I got an email from Levy saying that he was holding auditions for "The Guest" in New York. I had an audition for a new That's So Raven spin-off and I thought:
"What do you really want to do here?"
LEVY LEE SIMON, PLAYWRIGHTOriginally from Harlem in New York City, award winning actor, screenwriter and playwright, Levy Lee Simon is a graduate of Cheyney State College and the University of Iowa's Playwright's Workshop where he received his MFA in playwriting in 1999. He was a Visiting Professor of Theatre at the University of Iowa from 1999-2001.
Levy Lee is the author of over twenty plays which have been produced and read in theatres around the country. He is the author of the For the Love of Freedom trilogy co-produced by Danny Glover's Robey Theatre and the Greenway Arts Alliance in Los Angeles. Part III in the trilogy, Christophe - the Spirit - Passion and Glory was recently nominated for six 2006 NAACP Awards including a nomination for 'Best Playwright.' Part II, Dessalines - the Heart - Blood and Liberation garnered Levy Lee an Ovation Award nomination for 'Best New Play,' of 2003. Part I, Toussaint - the Soul - Rise and Revolution was nominated for ten NAACP Awards in 2001 including a nomination for "Best Playwright.' All three plays were directed by Ben Guillory Co-Artistic Director of the Robey Theatre. Levy Lee's play, The Bow-Wow Club is the winner of the 1998/9 Lorraine Hansberry Award for, 'Best Full Length Play' awarded by ACTF and the Kennedy Center. His play CASELOAD opened this month and will run through May 20th, 2006 at the Workshop Theatre. Another of his plays, The Smoke King about the life of WEB Dubois, will tour colleges and theatres in the fall of 2006 featuring actor Charles Holt as WEB Dubois. Other notable plays and works in progress by Simon include, Same Train, The Guest at Central Park West, Letters from the Pen, The Real Roxanne, Wolves Over Hollywood, The Drama That Was Us, The Trial of Superfly, and more.
As a screenwriter Levy Lee's adaptation of The Bow-Wow Club, was optioned by FOX Searchlight and Forest Whitaker's Spirit Dance production company.
Among his many acting roles, he was a cast member in the Pulitzer Prize winning, Tony Nominated Broadway production of The Kentucky Cycle and played Caleb Humphries in David Feldshuh's Miss Evers' Boys, at Santa Fe Stages, the Barbican Theatre, and The Bristol Old Vic in England.
as told to Dana Roc
The Guest at Central Park West is a social political drama but it has a lot of humor, too.
It takes place at an apartment on Central Park West at the home of Charles and Nina Watts, an African American couple. They are professors, receiving death threats because Charles has just won the Noble Peace Prize for writing a book - promoting peace. On this particular night, they are having a dinner party with some friends who happen to be White, when an unexpected guest shows up.
Know one knows why this unexpected guest, a college friend of Charles', now homeless, has shown up. As it turns out, Charles and "The Guest" have a very deep and a very dark history. All of the drama revolves around their past.
The Guest at Central Park West is a play that addresses the issues that we are dealing with as a society today.
The overall inspiration was a collection of things:
- I don't understand violence
- I am sick of the war in Iraq and I want to address that in some kind of way
- I don't understand the treatment of poor people
- I don't understand how "successful" people can separate themselves just because they are doing O.K
The ending is very dramatic and I hope it will cause people to want to riot - not really. But I do want for them to at least walk out talking about the message and looking at things differently.
But most importantly,
I hope that this play causes people to want to live -
to really live.
I called Levy and said
"If you don't find anyone to do this role, I'd like for you to consider me."
A couple of days later Lee called back and said
"Consider yourself considered."
Everything after that just went into motion.
Everybody has a story.
For the most part we try to keep our stories confined to whatever it is that we want people to know about us. The character that I play "The Guest", Terrence, is a catalyst for another character who is trying to keep his story confined to only what he wants people to know about him.
Whenever you have someone come along that is about to break our barriers or expose our secrets, things become very tense because there is nothing more frightening in this world than having your secrets exposed.
Many people would rather die than let you know the deepest darkest regions of their minds and of their actions.
Terrence isn't really like that. His life is an open book - apparently. What we find as the play goes on is that who we thought was an open book, one of the people that we dismiss along the way everyday, one of the people that we try not to see in our daily lives, is that he is incredibly complex and that he has an incredibly moving story.
Every time that you think you have a handle on Terrence, he exposes something else that lets you know that you haven't really figured him out at all. He draws you in as someone who, at first is one of the invisible people in our society, to becoming someone who you feel deeply for because of what he has had to overcome just to be the person that we think should be invisible.
I believe that everything you need to know, you already are and that the process of self discovery is how you begin to define a character.
What I found out about myself through this role is that we all have something within us that is darker than anything that we want to imagine that we would be capable of doing. At the same time we also have this vast capacity for compassion and forgiveness. Whatever you think your limit is for compassion is also the extent of your capacity for darkness on the other side. The more compassionate that you can be, the greater the capacity you have for darkness. The two would have to exist as two sides of the same coin. You can't have one without the other. They go hand in hand.
My character has an incredible capacity for darkness on a level that normal functioning people in society would never consider to be possible in their daily lives. However, at the same time he has a tremendous capacity for righteousness and, as hardened as he has become to the world, he also has that much more of an inner need for connection.
So, to play Terrence for me, is to get in touch with all of those things that are inside of me and to be willing to explore and inhabit all of those potentials and bring them to a point where I can allow people to see that that is within me and -
not be afraid of what they might think.
If you really believe in something, you just have to step up and do it and stop talking about it. It is important for people to take action if we want to see change come about.
We are beyond the point now where simple protest is viable because the people who are in power understand that if they let you get it out of your system, you'll go home and then they can continue to keep doing what they are doing and not worry about you.
Taking action can be as small as deciding to walk instead of drive, then all of a sudden the oil companies aren't making 36 billion dollars in profit and raising profits at the same time. It is only that we continue to participate in the charade because it is comfortable for us to do so, that they are allowed to do what they do.
The Guest at Central Park West challenges, in no uncertain terms, our participation in the charade that we are living.
I have been in Hollywood long enough to understand that once you try to corporate-ize art, it stops being art and becomes product. The people who are producing the product have absolutely no concern for the greater good of society so they will put out anything.
As artists we have to be willing to say
"No! I am not going to take this gift that I have been given and this craft that I have honed and turn it into something that demeans people and turn it into something that refuses to take responsibility for the ideas that it puts into the airwaves".
These are ideas that effect our society in quantifiable ways that the people who won't say "no" will not connect themselves to, and because they refuse to take responsibility they continue to create darker and darker realities which then play themselves out in our greater society and they are never held responsible for it.
At a certain point you have to be willing to say "no". I know that there will be somebody there willing to take my place instantaneously as soon as I say "no", but it's not me.
I want to bring Levy Lee Simons work into the mainstream because his work is about the possibilities for change and awakening. That can happen when you come into a theater and evolve with the people onstage.
I feel honored to be a part of this process.
There is this moment that happens when you are onstage that can't be recreated anyplace else. It is the moment when you forget that you are you and you forget that they are actors and you become this moment, as the situation comes to life. The moment that you forget, there is a oneness that happens on the stage, not only with the other actors but also with the audience and that moment is why I do this. I do it for that moment.
I have sort of been pigeon-holed in Los Angeles as "the guy who plays the Dad on kid's shows". To have the opportunity to get out here and express my craft and really challenge myself to create something to the point where that one-ness happens; where we have transported people into another world that is only broken when the lights come up; when those people stop and applaud and there is nothing else they can do to give it back to you -- they jump out of their seats and they want to give you back that energy that you just gave them - that is my reward.
I hope that after seeing The Guest at Central park, people will walk away with a sense of hope that if we activate ourselves that we really can change the world. The only possibility for change is if we start thinking of things in a different way. It really all does start with an idea -- if we can just begin to embrace that...
Honestly, I didn't want anybody else to do this role. I think its one of those enduring pieces of American Theater that people are going to be doing for years and years and years after this and I really believe that this is not the last stop for this production and it's not the last stop for Levy and I doing this production.Click here to learn more about John Marshall Jones.
INFORMATION ON HOW YOU CAN GO SEE THE GUEST AT CENTRAL PARK WEST