As a fan of drama, I appreciate the theatre. Dramatic storylines, tension, and secrets are a perfect storm for an entertaining production. In the National Tour of His Double Life, however, the drama opens up some real issues.
His Double Life is a father/son story about the destructive nature of secrets and dealing with serious issues such as alcoholism and repressed sexual desires.
I sat down with one of the stars of the show, singer-songwriter Robyn Charles (daughter of legendary musician Ray Charles) to discuss some of the themes of the play and about the project as a whole.
Nial Martin and most members of the cast are actively engaged in different social advocacy projects. No Jives Productions itself is a non-profit that brings the arts to at-risk youths. Can you talk about what it’s like working on a project that seeks to affects its community in this way?
It’s been interesting coming into the LGBT community from this standpoint. I've always had LGBT friends and it's kind of hush hush and you learn in your community that it’s taboo most of the time. Everyone should have an opportunity express themselves. Who am I to judge you based on what you do that brings you joy and how you express love? So this has really given me a different insight on what it feels like to be a part of this community because they all embrace you because we all kind of share some of the same realities.
I’m interested in the hush hush attitude, particularly in black communities. Do you have an idea of why that is or how the play speaks to it?
It’s kind of ingrained in us, a lot of us grew up in the church where we were taught that it’s a sin or abomination. Until you get to a place in your life where you develop your own education and research to understand what you believe and are willing to invest in, you just follow what you’re taught your whole life. If my community and network have all been taught one thing, then it’s a lot easier to just keep quiet rather than have an opinion that will have me ridiculed. Like Kaepernick, he decided to do something to pay homage to the fallen, and he wasn’t expressing hate towards the flag or anything, he just took a knee. He was judged and this is where we are right now. This is what “America” was built on, freedom from oppression and yet we come here and continue to be oppressed.
I believe church and theatre are not too far apart, both gathering places, places where people come for answers, and pillars in the black community. How does spirituality play into the story, especially the character Matthew’s journey in making sense of his identity?
It doesn’t touch a lot on spirituality directly, but it delves more on the innuendos that go along with how religion dictates what’s right and wrong. It talks about how this dynamic affects people at large. Your sexuality has nothing to do with who you worship. At the end of the day, who and how your love is where your heart lies. It doesn’t speak too directly to that, but it would be interesting to see the play go in that direction.
And it’s something that’s always in the background anyway.
Absolutely. You will have different types of people in that audience who are going to ask those kinds of questions.
A major conflict of the play is the relationship between a black man and his father. I find relationships between black men are unique. Across sexual identities and generations, the bonds and struggles between black men are difficult to put into words, but are inherently special. What, or why do you think this is?
Black men have been taught to desensitize themselves. When you ask a man ‘what’s wrong?’ society has taught them that nothing is wrong, that they are strong enough to take on whatever it is. The barrier is that they don’t address these things and end up burying them and now there’s a problem with this father and son and two brothers. They don’t know how to emotionally express themselves and they feel shame that they can’t talk about.
The backbone of this play in my eyes is black women. What does the play have to say about black women?
This is my favorite part of the play because it talks about a lot of elements when it comes to black women. My character Vanessa Clark is trying to understand her role as someone who is expected to want an ideal life with a family and white-picket fence but has a vision and goals that may exist outside of that. She ends up in a position to pursue that but is conflicted with her original goal. So she has to make a decision, and she finds her passion, music, is her outlet. The role that the women in the play take is that of the sound mind, the strength, the motivators, even when they’re not trying to. Even in the very instance when Vanessa is angry with Matthew for not supporting her, she turns around and supports him through what he’s going through. I think that’s an important piece of the puzzle for all women. It’s what we do, nurture, cultivate. You get to see the mother, the wife, showing compassion. And in spite of the fact that we know this is who we are, we often don’t get credit for that. And so I appreciate that the women are given such strong roles, even the comic relief character is strong and protective.
What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned in this role as Vanessa Clark?
Robyn: Honestly, the biggest thing I’ve learned is how to connect to someone else who may or may not be real. Vanessa could be a real person in the world. I haven’t dated a guy that was ‘undercover’ but I have dated a guy who didn’t listen or support me, and I know that space where I felt unloved by a man. To then connect with my character through that and make it believable for an audience is the biggest thing I’ve learned. It’s very different from standing on a stage and performing as a vocalist. All you have to do is sing, have the talent, deliver and they’ll listen. But this role and character is a very big learning curve for me. I can’t count on the voice to save me, I have to still find a way to connect with the audience. It’s difficult but I’m learning how to do it.
There’s a lot of musical talent in this cast. What’s the role of music in the play?
It wasn’t intended to have a strong musical presence, but because Niall brought me in, he wanted an opportunity to showcase my talents. It shifted and morphed to allow the music to connect to the crowd without it being a musical. We intersected some music throughout the entire play and I think it was a great merge and it really takes it to another level.
Does David Tolliver also sing?
Yes, he’s like a powerhouse. I love him, he’s such an amazing talent and has evolved. I grew up listening to his music and to be working with him, getting critiqued by him has been awesome. This is a very unique cast, everyone’s amazing in their own right. Despite what we’re good or bad at, we all come together and bond with one another. Some of us have had troubles during this, and we’ve just been there to love one another. What I want is to take the love we found amongst each other even in this little bit of time and be able to share that with the audience.
What’s the most surprising thing about this play that we should look forward to?
If I tell you, people won’t be surprised!
Just a hint, then.
OK, there’s a love scene.
I’ll take it.
This production of His Double Life is in Atlanta for one-night only on November 11th at the Rialto Center for the Arts. Tickets are available here and are going fast. Do not miss out!