(*homocinematically inclined)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Reverend's Interview: Family Man

Darryl Stephens is well-known among gay men as the star of Noah’s Arc, which aired on Logo from 2005-2007 and was followed by a well-received theatrical movie, Noah’s Arc: Jumping the Broom.  As struggling screenwriter Noah Nicholson, Stephens embodied the many professional and personal challenges endured not only by gay African-Americans but by gay men of all ethnicities.

Stephens is also an accomplished theatre actor, dancer and singer, as I recently learned while researching Stephens’ career prior to interviewing him about his appearance this month in the world premiere of Gary Lennon’s play A Family Thing.  The Echo Theater Company production will run February 16th-March 17th at Stage 52, 5299 W. Washington Blvd. in Los Angeles.

“First and foremost, I wanted to work with Gary,” Stephens said of his decision to do Lennon’s latest work.  Lennon previously authored the acclaimed plays Blackout and 45 (both of which were turned into movies) as well as numerous episodes of TV’s The Shield, The Black Donnellys and Justified.  “I worked with (Lennon) last year on The Interlopers,” Stephens continued, “and he’s really good at writing certain voices and characters.”

In addition to Stephens, A Family Thing stars Saverio Guerra, Johnny Messner and Sean Wing as three brothers raised in New York’s tough Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood.  One of the brothers has just gotten out of prison, another is a struggling drug addict, and the youngest is a gay screenwriter trying to break his family’s cycle of mayhem and betrayal.

“This particular play is to me about people running from the past and confronting their demons,” Stephens reflects.  “It’s about how the further we run from our issues or deny them, the stronger they become.”

Stephens’ own family upbringing was spent in Southern California.  He was born in Pasadena in 1974 and grew up between there and the Altadena area of LA.  He studied sociology and ethnic studies as well as drama and dance at the University of California, Berkeley.  Following graduation, Stephens performed in San Francisco for four years with the cult theatre troupe, Sassymouth.  He then moved back to LA to pursue roles in movies and TV.

I asked Stephens when he first began performing.  “It’s kind of a weird story,” he replied.  “In high school, I was getting weird, not necessarily positive attention in the school yard.  I wasn’t being bullied but it was very awkward for me.  I had a friend in show choir and I started going to practice with him during lunch to avoid the school yard.  The choir director asked me to start singing, which I did and enjoyed, and from then on it snowballed into acting.”

Upon his return to LA, Stephens secured parts in the films Seamless (with Shannon Elizabeth) and Circuit, as well as on episodes of the series Undressed and That’s Life.  Then, writer-director Patrik-Ian Polk noticed the actor and cast him as the lead character in Noah’s Arc.  I asked Stephens whether Noah and his circle of friends are gone for good.

“There was talk of a spinoff series after the movie, which did very well, but we all moved on,” Stephens responded.  “Fans are very enthusiastic about a reunion but it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen.  I hear from fans every single day, and it’s been an amazing experience for me seeing how powerful the representation of these characters was at the time.”

More recently, Stephens had roles in the gay-themed films Another Gay Movie and Boy Culture, and appeared on such popular TV shows as Ugly Betty, Two and a Half Men and Desperate Housewives.   Currently, he can be seen on Logo’s DTLA as well as alongside his fellow Noah’s Arc alumnus, Wilson Cruz, as a gay men’s health professional in Patrik Ian-Polk’s latest movie, The Skinny.  The dramedy about an emotionally- and sexually-charged reunion among a group of former college friends is newly available on DVD.

In speaking with him, it seems that Stephens is most enthusiastic about his work on two other fronts: the page and the stage.  His first novel, Shortcomings, was published last year, and he is currently writing his second novel in addition to “co-writing a couple of screenplays.”

Discussing his recent work on stage, Stephens has a particular fondness for his role in Lennon’s The Interlopers.  “I played a pre-op transgender activist,” he recalls.  “I had never played a character so loud and brassy and I loved flexing my comedy muscle, which I don’t get to do very often.”  Stephens is very much an activist himself when it comes to LGBT concerns.  “I definitely try to keep folks informed about issues that affect our community; I try to represent the community in a positive way.”

In closing, I asked Stephens whether he is satisfied with his career at this point.  “I don’t think an artist can ever really be truly satisfied, but I am happy to be working as an out black gay man,” he said.  “I wouldn’t say I’ve hit my stride yet as an artist but I’m definitely building up to it.”

For more information about A Family Thing or to purchase tickets, visit the Echo Theater Company website or call (877) 369-9112.

Interview by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.

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