The cast, director and writer of of Eclipsed on Broadway (see my review) appeared at Sardi’s Restaurant a few weeks ago as star Lupita Nyong’o star was celebrated with a caricature of herself, now gracing the walls of the iconic eatery. The sketch signifies informally that an actor has been embraced by the Broadway community. Present at the Sardi’s reception and celebration was Saycon Sengbloh, who plays Wife #1, alongside Lupita Nyong’o’s Girl/Wife #4. On Broadway Saycon Sengbloh previously appeared in Holler If Ya Hear Me, Motown the Musical, Fela!, Hair, and Wicked. She co-stars in the upcoming Ernest Dickerson film Double Play.
For Eclipsed Sengbloh is nominated for the Tony Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play, one of six Tony nominations for the play. The cast, director, playwright, and producers are looking forward with anticipation to the Tony Awards ceremony hosted by James Corden, which will air Sunday, June 12, 2016 at 8:00 pm EST on CBS.
At Sardi’s I was able to briefly speak with Saycon Sengbloh about her performance as Wife # 1. I had seen her wonderful portrayal at The Public Theater where Eclipsed opened last fall. She graciously consented to chat with me for a few minutes about the presentation at the Public and the subsequent move to Broadway.
I saw Eclipsed at the Public Theater and I loved it. What is the difference between what you did there (Off Broadway) and the Broadway production?
The big difference I would say is that we had a lot of time for this material to marinate in our hearts and in our spirits. I meet a lot of people who say, “Oh my God. I love the changes they did in the script.” There were no changes. There was literally one swap-out of a word, between Off Broadway and Broadway. It’s just that we’re so much more in touch with the characters.
Also, the Broadway stage is a little bit wider. At the Public, the stage was deeper and more narrow. So there’s a wider focus and scope, which makes you think about the Liberian War and how vast and huge it was. With it being a small show about a small group of women, when you are in a theater with a large space, it makes you contemplate…how war affects …not only a small group of women, but an entire country, children, so many different individuals. It gives you a sense of the scope of war. That’s what you feel on the Broadway stage.
Also the audiences seem to laugh more on Broadway, I noticed. They are laughing at things that are funny. They laugh more in a jovial way, and sometimes they may laugh if there is an uncomfortable feeling. But there is a lot of levity in the play, so I think they recognize it and laugh more at those sections, where the audiences at the Public didn’t laugh as much. I think it’s both of those things.
You’re playing the same part which you created at The Public Theater. I studied acting and understand how plays evolve beautifully via continual workshopping. However, I’m not sure readers will know what you mean by “marinate.” Could you discuss what you mean by how the roles marinated?
Well, when you first get into a show, in the rehearsal of it, you are really busy in the mechanics of it, learning to take a step in a certain location, learning to make sure you don’t step on somebody’s foot, memorizing your lines, making sure you’re in the light. You know, there’s a technical aspect, even making sure you hit all your marks in a certain way when the show is first going, in the first few weeks. Now that’s for regional shows. I’ve starred in regional shows and I’ve done Broadway shows for three years at a time. The thing that happens when you’re in a show for a long period of time is what I call marinating. All that technical aspect is secondhand. You don’t have to think about, “Oh, I know I don’t step on her foot there,” or “Oh, I don’t know my lines.” Your lines are in you, so then you’re able to really pull on other resources within yourself. And you’re able to apply your study, your research, documents or other things you may have done to enhance the work. So that’s what makes it more marinated.
Well, it’s like you’ve become the character.
Not that you weren’t before, but that you’re freed up.
Yeah, you know the character a lot better than you knew before in ways that you never imagined. So I really enjoy playing Wife # 1, Helena. It’s a really great opportunity.