The Root Interview: Delroy Lindo

Delroy Lindo tells The Root about his love for August Wilson's Joe Turner's Come and Gone as a new London production traverses the theme of identity between the African-American and black-British experiences of slavery.

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LONDON–Joe Turner’s Come and Gone has a new home at the Young Vic, one of the United Kingdom’s premier theater venues, known for its diverse productions. The London revival has been received enthusiastically here, from the audience, who greeted its opening with deafening applause, to theater critics. The Guardian said that the play ”takes time setting off on its journey, but reaches its destination in triumph,” while the Daily Telegraph enthused, ”by turns tender, tough and deeply affecting, this is a play, and a production of great distinction.”

”In the U.S., his plays are done widely, a great deal in New York and other parts of the country. In [the U.K.], his plays are not done often and I’m hoping to change that,” says David Lan, the play’s director, explaining his reasons for reviving one of August Wilson’s best-known plays. Lan is a South African-born, British playwright and filmmaker, and the Young Vic’s artistic director. He also directed Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in The Sun in 2001. Joe Turner’s Come and Gone is the third in a series of historical plays produced by the Young Vic chronicling the lives of 20th-century African Americans.

Set in the round, the Young Vic has been transformed into a boarding house where Wilson’s characters come and go at will. The theater is filled with red earth, symbolic of the rural roots of Wilson’s characters and their journey from the South to the North on their quest for identity. In all of this, it is impossible to ignore the presence of Delroy Lindo, who played the role of Herald Loomis in the original 1988 production of the same play. However, Lindo now takes on the character of Bynum Walker.

The Root: Why is it important for theater to revisit groundbreaking plays like August Wilson’s Joe Turner’s Come and Gone?

Delroy Lindo: This is a play I consider to be a contemporary classic. In that sense, I feel the play is timeless and the deep issues that the play is dealing with, namely, identity, specifically for people of African descent. But I think anybody who has negotiated the question of identity and where they belong on this planet can relate to this play. So, from that standpoint, I believe that the issues are timeless and therefore, it makes the play timeless and relevant to revisit.

TR: You directed the same play at the end of 2008 at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, and Fences is currently on Broadway. Is it a coincidence that you have two plays from a great playwright, playing on opposite sides of the Atlantic at the same time?

DL: It’s coincidence, actually. However, I think that it does speak to and attest to August’s international influence. I actually have no idea how many of his plays have been translated into other languages but he does have, because his work is so specific, a universal quality. I like to think that he has a universal appeal, and I like to think the fact that his plays are being done concurrently in New York and London is a testament to his influence.

TR: You talked about the issue of identity, which of course, relates to Africans, Africans Americans, but here in London, there is a vast difference between the interpretation of slavery and the way it is viewed in the United States. What questions do you hope this play raises with the audience?

DL: [For] people of the African Diaspora and African descent, to the extent that this play deals with identity, who are we on this planet and where do we fit? How do we find ourselves? I think that is a question that people of African descent can ask themselves wherever they may be because people of African descent have literally spread all over the globe. So, whether or not black people have been forcefully taken from their countries of origin or whether they have arrived through some other means, now when I say through some other means, I am not sure, who those black people are. To that extent, I think the issues in this play are always relevant and current.

TR: Is this your first time on the British theater stage?