Audra McDonald knows her new Broadway show is surprising theatergoers. “Some people come to see ‘Ohio State Murders’ and they’re taken aback by how I’m speaking or the words that I’m using,” she said on the new episode of Stagecraft, Variety’s theater podcast.
Listen to this week’s “Stagecraft” podcast below:
The Tony-winning actor (“Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill,” “The Good Fight”) went on to explain, “There’s prejudice and stereotyping of Black people and how people want to see and hear from them in the theater. They want to see and hear from them in a certain way: ‘Well, I want you dancin’ and singin’.’ Or, ‘If you’re going to be doing a play, it’s gotta be “Raisin in the Sun.”’”
McDonald admitted that “Ohio State Murders,” which marks the Broadway debut of playwright Adrienne Kennedy, is a challenging work. “Adrienne is taking on very — I don’t want to say difficult, but — necessary, raw material,” she said.
What’s it about? Depends who’s asking. “If I say it’s a play about murder and systemic racism as it effects a young black woman in the late ’40s and how it affects her to this day, a lot of people are going to run from that,” McDonald acknowledged. “So sometimes I’ll say it’s a murder mystery about something that happened in the past that someone is now speaking about. Sometimes I’ll say its centering a black woman’s experience of racism in higher education, three years after Ohio State’s dorms were desegregated. But I pick and choose who I say what to, with the purpose of wanting as many people to see it.”
The difficulty of getting crowds to turn out for the play was underscored shortly after the interview was recorded, when producers announced that the limited-run production would close Jan. 15, a full month ahead of schedule. On Stagecraft, McDonald described how difficult the show is for her as performer, too, calling it “the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” and revealed the things she does every night to help herself get through it.
Also on the new episode of Stagecraft, McDonald talked up the latest news from the organization she co-founded, Black Theater United; dished on what it’s like having her husband, Will Swenson, star in his own Broadway show (“A Beautiful Noise”) right across the street; and marveled at just how fancy the dressing rooms are at the newly remodeled James Earl Jones Theater.
“It’s so clean!” she said. “There’s not, like, old couches from the 1950s floating from dressing room to dressing room!”
To hear the full conversation, listen at the link above or download and subscribe to “Stagecraft” on podcast platforms including Apple Podcasts, Spotify and the Broadway Podcast Network. New episodes of “Stagecraft” are released every other week.