Christiana Clark and Lester Purry
Two actors make their South Coast Repertory debuts, bringing to life the gripping drama Fireflies by Donja R. Love (Jan. 5-26, 2020, Julianne Argyros Stage). Lester Purry portrays the Rev. Charles Grace, who travels the South in 1963 spreading hope during the Civil Rights movement. Christiana Clark portrays Olivia Grace, the wife who skillfully crafts—in the couple’s kitchen—Charles’ eloquent speeches. But secrets and regrets are beginning to take their toll, and Charles is expected home at any moment. We caught up with Clark and Purry during rehearsals to talk with them about the play’s story, what it means to them and more.
I portray Olivia Grace. She is the devoted wife of Reverend Charles Emmanuel Grace, one of the faces of the Civil Rights movement, and, as far as the world is concerned, that alone is the be-all and end-all of who she is or ever needs to be. Until recently, that is all she purposed herself to be, but the pressure and pain she’s been living under as a black woman in the South in 1963 has ignited a powder keg of self-discovery.
This is my SCR debut!
My other credits include How to Catch Creation, The Way the Mountain Moved, Romeo and Juliet, The Odyssey, The Wiz, Hamlet, Into the Woods and The Taming of the Shrew (Oregon Shakespeare Festival); Blue (Penumbra Theatre); Pure Confidence (59E59, off-Broadway); Othello, Endgame, Constant Star, Lost in the Stars, A Raisin in the Sun and The Trinity River Plays.
The story of Fireflies resonates with me because Donja [R. Love, playwright] has put fire in the language, whether it’s fire in the language in sermons, given to uplift and encourage in-charge black folks during this unbelievably trying time, or the fire between a husband and wife that can spark quicker than expected or smolder under the surface. Sometimes, the raw, wild realness of a fire can grow out of control but, in the hands of an alchemist, can be controlled and used to a purpose and I really see that there in the language of this piece.
The play is important right now because if you change some names and references and other specific details that said this play is set in 1963, it could completely be taking place today, right now. As Olivia says early in the play, “Pain has a way of lingering.” I believe that theatre has the capacity to begin facilitation healing, or at least sparking the conversations necessary for dealing with the traumas and tragedies of life.
The book I’m currently reading is My Life With Martin Luther King Jr. by his widow, Coretta Scott King.
I portray Rev. Charles Grace. He is a Southern preacher during the Civil Rights movement. His main task is preaching at the funerals of kids killed during the movement, falsely imprisoned and to comfort the families of the victims.
This is my SCR debut.
My other credits include Othello, The Darker Face of the Earth and The Big White Fog (Guthrie Theater), Fences, Dutchman, Two Trains Running, The Piano Lesson, King Hedley II and Jitney (Penumbra Theatre); Thunder Knocking on the Door and You Can Stop on a Dime (Baltimore Center Stage); as well as Arizona Theatre Company, Philadelphia Theatre Company and Children’s Theatre Company. I was also in the one-man show Thurgood as Thurgood Marshall at Geva Theatre Center.
The story of Fireflies resonates with me because it looks at the truth of flawed people dealing with people during a time of tremendous oppressions and the truth of a complicated life.
This play is important now because many of the themes in Fireflies are happening today. It’s a window both into the past and today.
The book I’m currently reading is The Traveler’s Giftby Andy Andrews.
Learn more about Fireflies and buy tickets.